The Legal Aid Society launched “CAPstat” today – a database containing publically available information culled from federal civil rights lawsuits brought against the New York City Police Department (NYPD) for misconduct, alongside the disciplinary summaries BuzzFeed published last year and other public information – all of which is now easily accessible to the public for the first time.
CAPstat was created to show how transparency can improve the public’s collective ability to identify trends in misconduct and to advocate for reform. The database highlights the amount of taxpayer money spent towards settling repeated incidents of police misconduct that the City has failed to properly track and remedy. The database can and should be used by policymakers and by the NYPD to better identify and prevent systemic patterns of police misconduct and to discipline the officers who repeat this misconduct. The database can also be used as a resource for people who have witnessed or who have been harmed by police misconduct, so as to help them decide whether to take legal action.
“CAPstat will help New Yorkers gain a more thorough understanding of lawsuits filed against the NYPD for misconduct and will help the public hold the NYPD accountable for reoccurring patterns of misconduct that the department itself routinely ignores,” said Cynthia Conti-Cook, Staff Attorney with the Special Litigation Unit at The Legal Aid Society's Criminal Practice. “With today’s launch, we join a national movement including fellow defenders, advocates, and community members to shed much needed daylight on police departments and their actions.”
This website was inspired by decades of work on the parts of grassroots movements, journalists, civil rights attorneys, academics, and policy makers who have advocated for learning from litigation data so as to improve policing policies, trainings, early intervention systems, and accountability. The data was collected by Julie Ciccolini for Legal Aid’s Cop Accountability Project (“CAP”). CAP was started at Legal Aid by staff attorney Cynthia Conti-Cook, and was initially intended to serve Legal Aid's Criminal Defense Practice attorneys who must, due to Civil Rights Law 50-a, argue in the dark for disclosure of internally documented police misconduct. To better serve the public’s right to know about police misconduct in a state where it is shrouded with secrecy due to Civil Rights Law 50-a, we expanded our project to bring this information to the public.
The federal lawsuits included in this database were collected daily between January 2015 and June 2018. For each lawsuit, details are available on the locations and time of the underlying indicent, demographics of the victims, types of civil rights violations alleged, charges underlying false arrest cases, any uses of force, and the outcome or settlement amount.
Similarly, all officers named in the 2015-2018 lawsuits can be sorted based on the total settlement amounts associated with lawsuits they’re named in, the total number of lawsuits they were named in during that period, and their salary and overtime. Each officer also has his or her own profile depicting promotion and salary history, any other publicly known misconduct, and other officers who have also been named in lawsuits.
“Two barriers that we face toward real policing reform are a lack of transparency and accountability-- and accountability requires transparency. I believe that the CAPStat database will be a vital tool for the public as well as for the NYPD and advocates to review, to find and address systemic failures. This administration hides behind 50-a to prevent vital transparency, and I thank the Legal Aid Society for providing this tool that can be used for change,” said Council Member Jumaane D. Williams.
“Transparency and accountability around police misconduct are two of the most important issues we face in the fight for criminal justice reform today,” said Council Member Donovan Richards, chair of the City Council’s Committee on Public Safety. “While the toll police misconduct takes on our families and communities weighs the heaviest, it also hits our city’s wallet hard as well and the more information available, the better we all can be at addressing patterns of abuse and neglect. I’d like to thank the Legal Aid Society for all of the hard work that went into the creation of CAPstat and for their dedication to sensible reforms that will benefit the people of New York City.”
"We know from our wrongful conviction cases that making findings of police misconduct prevents wrongful conviction by identifying patterns of misconduct and enhancing the public safety.
Transparency will earn the public's trust and promises to deliver more reliable criminal justice outcomes by enabling documented findings of misconduct to be made public. Work is being done in this area now in Chicago, Philadelphia, Baltimore and more - so why not New York? Unfortunately the Empire State has the unique distinction of having the worst law in the country and our entire system of justice suffers for it,” said Barry Scheck, co-founder of the Innocence Project.
"Lawsuits provide critically important information about incidents of alleged wrongdoing that can be used to identify and address problem officers, units, and practices. Yet, all too often this data is ignored--to the detriment of city officials, taxpayers, and the public at large. CAPstat allows the NYPD and others to identify practices and people that are the subjects of litigation, and then use that data to investigate the underlying causes for those trends. Lawsuit data should not be relied upon without further investigation and assessment--like all data, it has its flaws. But it offers unique insights into police practices that provoke litigation and payouts,” said Joanna C. Schwartz, Vice Dean for Faculty Development and Professor of Law at UCLA School of Law.