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NYPD will stop citing legal loophole to deny Freedom of Information Law requests | amNewYork

NYPD will stop citing legal loophole to deny Freedom of Information Law requests

Police Commissioner James O'Neill said Monday that the new policies regarding Freedom of Information Law are important to transparency and public trust.
Police Commissioner James O’Neill said Monday that the new policies regarding Freedom of Information Law are important to transparency and public trust.

The NYPD will no longer use a controversial section of the state’s civil rights law to deny Freedom of Information Law requests, department officials said on Monday.

The announcement comes as the NYPD has completed a review of disciplinary actions and vowed several improvements, including stronger penalties for officers who commit a physical act of domestic violence.

Ann Prunty, the assistant deputy commissioner of legal matters, said that the department will no longer use section 50-a of the state’s civil rights law — which the NYPD has argued protects an officer’s personnel record from being publicly released — to deny FOIL requests. The directive comes after an independent panel, formed in June 2018, recommended 13 changes to the department’s disciplinary policies, in part to "guard against expansion of the scope of 50-a."

Prunty said the legal department was accepting the recommendation that 50-a not be interpreted in a way "that’s too restrictive … in an effort to increase our transparency."

She added that as of March, the department would not "use 50-a as a basis to deny disclosure for arrest reports or other routine police reports that are made in the course of an officer making an arrest. In addition to that … we’re going to be releasing body-worn camera footage under FOIL. We’re not going to use 50-a anymore as a reason not to disclose that. It will go through the FOIL process and we’ll analyze it under the FOIL statute, which has a number of other exemptions, but we’re no longer going to use 50-a in order to deny disclosure of body-worn camera footage."

The decision also follows a February appellate court ruling allowing the NYPD to release body camera footage, which department officials said will be done on a "on a case-by-case" basis. In 2018, the NYPD received more than 1,100 FOIL requests for body camera footage, according to department statistics.

The NYPD is also updating its policy on discipline for officers accused of domestic violence. Starting Monday, a 1-year period of dismissal probation will be given to officers found guilty of committing an act of physical domestic violence. During that year, according to the NYPD, an officer would attend a mandatory 24-week counseling course and could be fired without a hearing. That period of dismissal probation would begin after any potential criminal case was concluded.

"We’re embracing these measures because people need to know that their police department takes domestic violence truly seriously," Police Commissioner James O’Neill said. "We must always hold ourselves to a higher standard and there is no place for such offenses in this organization."

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