Many police departments in New York state lack the technology and resources to maintain detailed records of their law-enforcement practices, says the New York Civil Liberties Union. The group filed Freedom of Information requests to 23 police departments about stops, complaints of misconduct, use of force, surveillance, and racial profiling, finding it difficult to get the data requested in most cases. Eventually, 19 departments fulfilled the requests, reports the Wall Street Journal. The state’s Freedom-of-Information laws amount to an unfunded mandate that can be especially burdensome for smaller jurisdictions like Newburgh, which has a staff of only three to handle FOIL requests, said Michelle Kelson, a lawyer for the city.
Under state law, there is a five-day window for police to acknowledge FOIL requests from the public and disclose information within a reasonable period, which isn’t defined. The civil-liberties group encountered “massive delays,” said its advocacy director, Johanna Miller. Only three departments responded in the time required, and the group had to file multiple appeals and lawsuits in two places to compel police departments to release information. Delays are endemic to the freedom-of-information process nationwide and at the federal level, said David Pozen, a Columbia University law professor. “Often Freedom-of-Information laws in this country have quite strict response-time requirements and agencies often complain that they are unrealistically strict,” he said.