NYT Editorial Sides with LAS on Need for Transparency in NYPD
THURSDAY, NOVEMBER 03, 2016

The New York Times Editorial Board sided with The Legal Aid Society in its campaign for greater transparency of police disciplinary records. Rather than buying the Mayor's half-hearted efforts to advocate for changing the law in Albany, the Editorial Board wisely advised the Mayor to get out of his own way and follow the law as the Court ordered last year, releasing the summary of Daniel Pantaleo's substantiated CCRB history.




The New York Times
Let the Public See Police Officers’ Records
By The Editorial Board
Nov. 3, 2016

Mayor Bill de Blasio recently called on the State Legislature to rewrite a 40-year-old law that has been interpreted as barring the public release of just about any information from the employment histories of police officers — even some who have committed crimes. The law, the only one of its kind in the nation, is indeed overly broad. But Mr. de Blasio, who ran for office as a champion of transparency, has more latitude in interpreting it than he has thus far used.

For example, his administration has shut down access to certain Police Department records that had been available to the news media for decades. The records, called “personnel orders,” include information about disciplinary actions, changes in duty and retirements. Officials argued that the city was forced to close access to comply with the statute it now wants reformed. But a state judge offered a more expansive reading of that law last year when she ordered the city to release summaries of misconduct findings against the police officer who used a chokehold in the 2014 arrest of Eric Garner that led to Mr. Garner’s death.

The findings had been made by the New York City Civilian Complaint Review Board, an independent agency with subpoena power that investigates and makes recommendations in disciplinary matters. They were limited in scope and dealt only with misconduct that was found to have occurred.

Even so, the city appealed, maintaining that the summaries were in fact personnel records that are covered by the state statute. As a practical matter, that is difficult to accept since the review board’s decisions are hardly a secret; indeed, the board conveys its findings to the people who have filed complaints. They, in turn, are free to publicize those findings, as happened when the board ruled last year that a police officer used excessive force when he tackled and handcuffed the retired tennis star James Blake outside a Manhattan hotel.

The city’s appeal shows that the review board’s interests sometimes conflict with those of the corporation counsel’s office, which represents both the board and the Police Department. The review board might well have decided to surrender the summaries had it been able to make its own legal choices instead of deferring to the corporate counsel’s office.

The Appellate Division of the State Supreme Court, which is to take up the city’s appeal soon, should interpret the law in a way that limits its reach. That means affirming the ruling that ordered the disciplinary summaries released.