Last August, The Root reported that the New York Civil Liberties Union released data that revealed more than 323,000 misconduct complaints filed against more than 80,000 New York police officers just after police unions failed to block the records from being exposed in a federal appeals court. Well, it turns out that the Big Apple is not done exposing police records for the good of the civilian communities that police are tasked with protecting and serving. In fact, earlier this month, the disciplinary records of another 83,000-plus police officers in the state have been made available to the public.
Insider reports that the New York City Civilian Complaint Review Board published a new searchable database this month that allows people to view the records of tens of thousands of police officers. The NYPD also provided a database of its own shortly after.
A professor of criminal justice law at the University of California, Berkeley, Jonathan Simon, sat down for an interview with Insider to talk about the benefits of data dumps like these saying they could “help people feel more empowered and get more accountability out of the system.”
Simon said one of the biggest reasons people don’t make legal claims when they feel their rights have been violated by police is because they doubt their experience. They question whether what happened may have been their fault or if they are overreacting.
But if a person who believes they’ve experienced misconduct can look online and see that an officer has done the same thing before, “it would reaffirm their own initial sense of being wronged in a way that would empower them, hopefully, to take some action,” Simon said.
The public records could also help prevent a police department from hiring someone with a history of misconduct.
When a police officer gets fired, including for serious misconduct, they are often able to get a job with another law enforcement agency in an occurrence known as the “wandering-officer phenomenon,” according to a Yale Law Journal study published last year.
Simon said in some of those cases, the new agency may not know of the officer’s history of misconduct since it is often not publicly available. With public disciplinary records, Simon said, “it’ll be easier for police forces to avoid hiring officers with a track record that hasn’t been disclosed to them.”
One can only wonder why police officers who tend to live by an “if you’ve done nothing wrong, you have nothing to worry about” creed never seem to want to apply that same logic to themselves. Allowing the public to see the records of officers in their communities shouldn’t be a thing cops would want to fight, especially if they’re serious about weeding out the bunch-spoiling “bad apples” we keep hearing so much about.
If the criminal records of civilians are made accessible to the public, why shouldn’t the disciplinary records of police officers?
Anyway, the database published by the CCRB excludes “open allegations, successfully mediated allegations,” or “allegations referred to NYPD or other investigative units,” Insider reports.
Exposing misconduct records is only a drop in the bucket of what needs to be done in the way of bringing true police reform to America—but it is a step in the right direction. Currently, there are around a dozen U.S. states that have made police disciplinary records public. It’s a policy that needs to be adopted across the nation.