Daily News: NYPD Refuses to Reveal Precinct Use-of-Force Data, Citing State Law

The NYPD has dug in its heels and refused to turn over precinct-level use-of-force data, citing a state law that it claims makes cop personnel records confidential.

According to a footnote buried in a May 4 NYPD letter to the Department of Investigation, the agency argued that use of force statistics by precinct could be used to identify individual cops — a violation of section 50-a of the state Civil Rights Law.

But civil rights lawyers slammed the move as a direct violation of Local Law 85, passed by the City Council in 2016, which requires the department to release use of force data by precinct.

"This is another example of the NYPD broadening the interpretation of 50-a to justify withholding important information that the public needs, and in this case, that the law requires," said Cynthia Conti-Cook of the Legal Aid Society.

Christopher Dunn, Associate Legal Director of the New York Civil Liberties Union, said it was another ploy to keep the public in the dark.

"Even if you believe in hiding officer disciplinary information, this dispute is only about statistics, which reveal nothing about individual officers," he said.

Good government groups said the department's position was flat-out wrong. Normally, statistical tabulations are automatically public record.

"If the Department maintains aggregate data that does not focus on any particular police officer, §50-a of the Civil Rights Law would not apply," said Robert Freeman of the state Committee on Open Government.

"Rather, the data would clearly be available to the public under the state's Freedom of Information Law."

Instead of turning over the precinct data, the NYPD only provided borough-wide data, citing Section 50-a of the New York State Civil Rights Law.

"In order to at least partially fulfill this requirement, the department has disaggregated this data by borough instead of by precinct to protect against disclosing an individual officer's finding of excessive force," NYPD Deputy Commissioner for Legal Matters Lawrence Byrne wrote in footnote No. 31 in his response to a DOI report released in February.

Contacted by the Daily News, NYPD spokesman Phillip Walzak provided a link to the published borough-level data online.

"In order to be transparent and comply to the fullest extent possible with laws that require use-of-force reporting, while avoiding violations of other confidentiality laws, the NYPD has published this data by borough. That information is readily available to the public online," he said.

For its part, DOI spokeswoman Nicole Turso said the department's response simply confirms the agency's contention that the NYPD is not complying with the city law.

"Civil Rights Law 50-a prevents the disclosure of personnel records, not data," she said. "By contrast, Local Law 85 requires NYPD to release data — not names. NYPD should not use 50-a to flout a City Council mandate to release data that is in the public interest."

The dust-up was the latest turn in a battle waged in court and in the media over the department's use of the law.

It began in 2016, when the NYPD suddenly stopped making summaries of disciplinary case outcomes available to the media. That move reversed four decades of practice.

Police officials insisted that all disciplinary outcomes and all personnel records were confidential.

Even documents entered into evidence in administrative trials are considered secret.

Critics, including Gov. Cuomo, though have said the department is applying the law too broadly and the city can release certain records if it wants.

Moreover, the NYPD has contradicted its own position in some cases, including disclosing that Officer Richard Haste was fired for poor tactics after the fatal 2012 shooting of Ramarley Graham.

The department has also released body camera video of police involved shootings — over objections from some police unions.

Overall, the NYPD's response to the DOI report was highly critical, accusing the agency of ignoring key initiatives to reduce use of force across the department.

The DOI report concluded the department is not complying with Local Law 85.