By Noah Manskar
June 5, 2019
The NYPD is facing a lawsuit over its decision to keep basic lists of its officers' names under lock and key.
The Police Department is withholding information that would help New Yorkers better understand who is policing their neighborhoods, said Jerome Greco, the Legal Aid Society lawyer who filed the lawsuit Monday in Manhattan Supreme Court.
The suit comes months after Legal Aid submitted a Freedom of Information Law in January requesting the rosters, which the NYPD declined to release, saying they would reveal sensitive information and potentially endanger public safety. The petition asks the court to order the NYPD to provide the rosters.
"We're not asking for undercover officers' information. We're not asking for home addresses. We're asking which police officers work at which precincts," said Greco, a staff attorney in Legal Aid's Digital Forensics Unit. "That's pretty standard, routine information that's public for every agency, or should be."
The city will review the lawsuit once it is served and "respond as we proceed in the litigation," said Nick Paolucci, a spokesman for the city's Law Department.
The NYPD denied both Greco's initial request for the rosters and his appeal for their release. The department cited exemptions to the Freedom of Information Law that allow government agencies to withhold records that would reveal "non-routine criminal investigative techniques or procedures," Greco's petition says.
The Police Department argued that a miscreant who knew how each precinct was staffed could target one that appeared to have less resources or manpower, according to the petition. The NYPD also said releasing the records could put the safety of cops and the general public in danger.
Greco argues that neither of those exemptions should apply to his request. The NYPD can only withhold records that might reveal investigative techniques if they were compiled for law-enforcement purposes, a stipulation that doesn't cover routine precinct rosters, his petition says.
"I'm surprised that they denied us, frankly, because I thought that this was a pretty easy one for them to comply with," Greco said. "I didn't think that we're asking for anything that crazy."
Greco's position has support from Robert J. Freeman, a Freedom of Information Law expert who serves as the executive director of the state's Committee on Open Government. In a March 22 advisory opinion on Greco's request, Freeman called the NYPD's decision not to release the records "unsupportable."
"In the context of your request, there is an absence of the kind of detail which, if disclosed, would create jeopardy or danger," Freeman wrote. He added that the information Greco sought is "basic and historically disclosed to the public."
The NYPD's denial also marked a reversal from its decision to release the rosters for the four police precincts on Staten Island, Greco said.
The department released redacted versions of those records to Patch in December in a response to a Freedom of Information request. The NYPD initially denied the request but a Patch reporter successfully appealed that denial.
Having precinct rosters would help Legal Aid keep better track of officers with histories of wrongdoing, Greco said. He said names would be incorporated into the organization's CAPStat database, which aims to help the public track police misconduct.
But it would also make it easier for New Yorkers to know the officers — good and bad — who are patrolling their neighborhoods, Greco said.
"The first thing you do when you meet somebody is you introduce yourself… and here they're saying, 'We don't want you to know,'" he said.
The NYPD did not respond to a request for comment on the lawsuit.