Federal Court Gives NYC Green Light to Release Police Disciplinary Records. Police Unions Are Predictably Mad

Illustration for article titled Federal Court Gives NYC Green Light to Release Police Disciplinary Records. Police Unions Are Predictably Mad
Photo: Photo Spirit (Shutterstock)

Cops really seem to hate the idea of police disciplinary records being made public. If a civilian has a criminal record, courts, potential employers, renters and others would be able to access that information through the simplest of background checks, but for some reason, police officers appear to think that putting on the uniform should shield them from such scrutiny. “If you’ve done nothing wrong, you have nothing to worry about,” is logic that only seems to apply to people on the receiving end of police work, not so much for officers themselves.

On Tuesday, a federal appeals court in New York dealt a blow to police unions by, well, ruling in favor of police transparency and accountability by allowing for NYC to release “hundreds of thousands of police disciplinary records, a major milestone in a long and bitter political battle to open the records to public scrutiny,” the New York Times reports.

Mayor Bill de Blasio didn’t give a specific timeframe for when the records would be made public, but he said, “We look forward to releasing this data,” and that his office would “seek clarity” from the court as to when the process of releasing those records could begin.

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Police officers and “back the blue” enthusiasts are going to feel however they’re going to feel about the ruling—which also extends to firefighters and corrections officers—but for activists, civil liberties groups and anyone else who thinks having access to a police officer’s report card is beneficial to society, this is, at the very least, a small victory.

From the Times:

For decades, the disciplinary records of police officers in New York were shielded from public disclosure by the state’s civil rights law. Then, in June, the State Legislature repealed the section of the law, known as 50-a, that had kept such records confidential.

The repeal was part of a package of legislative changes aimed at reducing police misconduct in the wake of the killing of George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis police officers, which had ignited nationwide protests against police brutality.

“For the past seven years, we’ve fundamentally changed how we police our city, strengthening the bonds between communities and the officers who serve them,” Mr. de Blasio said in a statement on Tuesday.

“Now, we can go even further to restore accountability and trust to the disciplinary process,” he said. “Good riddance to 50-a.”

Of course, the unions that sued to keep police brutality police records sealed aren’t happy with the Tuesday ruling and they, apparently, are not willing to give up the fight for police to be able to do whatever the fuck they want without the public knowing shit police privacy.

“Today’s ruling does not end our fight to protect our members’ safety and due process rights,” Hank Sheinkopf, a spokesperson for the coalition of unions, said.

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More from the Times:

The order by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit upheld a lower-court ruling and addressed complaints raised by the unions, including the fear that the disclosures could heighten the risks for police officers.

“We fully and unequivocally respect the dangers and risks police officers face every day,” the panel said. “But we cannot say that the District Court abused its discretion when it determined that the unions have not sufficiently demonstrated that those dangers and risks are likely to increase because of the city’s planned disclosures.”

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Again, if cops are going to argue—without sufficient evidence—that public viewing of their records puts them at risk, then that energy should be kept for everyone’s records. But we need to know about the backgrounds of teachers, politicians, counselors, physicians, retail workers, servers, babysitters, blind dates—literally anyone who wants to do anything that affects the general public. So why not police?

If policing is such an important job, then police transparency is just as important as it is for everyone else.

Zack Linly is a poet, performer, freelance writer, blogger and grown man lover of cartoons

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DISCUSSION

As I always point out, NWA said it best.