Over the last several months, the NYPD has insisted that it is working to increase transparency and accountability ahead of an April 1st state deadline for police reforms. But at a City Council hearing on Tuesday, the NYPD’s leadership declined to publish more comprehensive data on police misconduct investigations.
“The mayor’s plan promises full transparency in NYPD discipline, but the website the NYPD launched this week is limited to guilty findings from formal charges,” said Queens Councilmember Adrienne Adams, referring to the NYPD’s new officer misconduct database.
Adams asked if the mayor and the NYPD would commit to making all NYPD disciplinary charges public, including those that result in not guilty decisions and lower-level violations that are handled at the precinct or command level. (Until 2016, the routinely NYPD provided the media with personnel orders, which sometimes included disciplinary actions against officers. After widespread outcry over the police killing of Eric Garner, the city reversed course, relying on a new interpretation of a state personnel records law to justify the sudden change.)
NYPD Police Commissioner Dermot Shea declined, arguing that the current database strikes a balance between the public’s right-to-know and officers’ rights.
“What we came up with was the substantiated cases as you know, respecting the due process piece of this,” Shea said. “I didn’t want to be in a position where we’re giving less due rights and process to officers than we do to other people charged with offenses throughout the criminal justice system."
Christopher Dunn, Legal Director of the New York Civil Liberties Union, said the public needs to be able to access all of the records.
“What we’re missing when we don’t have the complete database are officers who have a pattern of misconduct that the department sweeps under the rug,” Dunn told Gothamist/WNYC. “When police officers have multiple charges of misconduct that is a big red flag that something is wrong, and under the current system the public will never know about it.”
At the hearing, city council members also criticized the city’s NYPD’s budget proposals for next year, and had a tough time getting clear answers from the mayor’s office.
“Now we’re proposing to increase policing next year by another $196 million while cutting sanitation, parks, and youth programs, and I’m worried that’s not even the full increase,” said Brooklyn Councilmember Brad Lander.
Lander suggested this figure could be even higher if the city follows through on a plan, reported on by Politico, to hire 475 more school safety agents at a cost of another $20 million. (The city subsequently walked back this proposal.)
“Can you commit that the NYPD is not going to hire 475 people?” asked Lander.
“No, what we said was it was something that was not in the preliminary budget and was being evaluated, and would be evaluated,” said Fuleihan.
Pressed by Lander again for a commitment, the First Deputy Mayor retorted that he would not commit to hiring them at all, further muddling clarity around the potential budget line item.
The NYPD’s total budget for the fiscal year 2020 added up to nearly $11 billion, which accounted for roughly 11.1% of the city’s overall budget, according to the Citizens’ Budget Commission. Last summer, after weeks of Black Lives Matter protests against police brutality, the Mayor’s Office announced that the NYPD would undergo $1 billion dollars in cuts and cost shifts, but Lander pointed out these reductions ended up amounting to a smaller figure of around $417 million.
“It’s impossible to believe plans for reform when we just aren’t telling the truth about what’s really happening,” he said.
The partial release of NYPD disciplinary records followed Albany’s repeal of a personnel records law, known as Civil Rights Law 50-a, which had previously shielded information on police discipline. But the disclosures were delayed until earlier this month due to a meandering court challenge from a coalition of police and other unions. That challenge was rejected by the Second Circuit Court of Appeals last month.
Last month, Gothamist/WNYC published hundreds of previously secret records on NYPD misconduct obtained from the Staten Island District Attorney’s Office. The records included numerous misconduct findings and minor disciplinary actions that are not available in the current version of the NYPD’s database. For example, Kyle Erickson, a Staten Island officer who has been twice accused of planting drugs in car stops, had two separate findings of improperly accounting for drug seizures in police paperwork.
In both of these instances, Erickson was lightly disciplined at the command-level, so the findings did not show up in the NYPD’s new online database.