Citing a clause in a 40-year-old law, the New York Police Department has decided to keep records regarding the discipline of officers under lock and key and will no longer release the information to the public, reports the New York Daily News. Critics say the policy change flies in the face of openness claims by Police Commissioner Bill Bratton and Mayor Bill de Blasio.
It raises concerns that the outcomes of department trials could be cloaked in secrecy, even proceedings in headline-grabbing cases like the chokehold death of Eric Garner. “I think it’s part of a larger pattern of secrecy by the NYPD,” said Adam Marshall of the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press. “It’s hard to imagine information more in the public interest, and the public interest in determining what has happened in these types of adjudications is incredibly important.”
For decades, reporters have had access to a “Personnel Orders” clipboard hanging in the department’s public information office. It listed administrative cases closed out either by a plea deal or by an internal trial. It also listed promotions and retirements. The clipboard has not been updated since April, when an order dated March 31 was posted. At the time, the NYPD told the News it was saving paper. This week, the NYPD changed the story, saying a cop’s disciplinary record was protected by section 50-a of the 1976 state Civil Rights Law. Asked what prompted the shift, Deputy Chief Edward Mullen, a police spokesman, said “somebody” in the police department’s Legal Bureau realized that, for years, it had been giving out information it should not have.