In the weeks following the first Black Lives Matter uprisings, criminal justice reform advocates scored several major legislative wins. In New York state, one of these was the repeal of Civil Rights Law 50-A, which shielded the misconduct records of law enforcement from the public.
Last week, however, a federal judge paused the release of those disciplinary records due to a police union lawsuit filed against New York City. Under the ruling, the police department and the Civilian Complaint Review Board, a watchdog group that oversees the NYPD are barred from sharing the records until at least Aug. 18, reports ABC News.
Not listed as a defendant—and therefore exempt from the ruling—is ProPublica, a nonprofit news organization with a focus on justice and investigative journalism. The publication announced Sunday it would be publishing thousands of disciplinary records, obtained by the CCRB before last week’s ruling.
“We are making this information public and, with it, providing an unprecedented picture of civilians’ complaints of abuse by NYPD officers as well as the limits of the current system that is supposed to hold officers accountable,” Deputy Managing Editor Eric Umansky wrote in a post unveiling the complaints, which were compiled in a searchable database.
As Umansky noted, the database lists only active-duty NYPD officers who have had at least one allegation against them substantiated by the CCRB. In total, there are 4,000 officers represented out of the department’s 36,000-strong workforce. This means 11 percent of all NYPD officers have had a credible complaint of misconduct lodged against them. According to ProPublica, 34 officers have as many 40 or more allegations of misconduct against them.
The release of the records is meant to enlighten the public about the scope and severity of misconduct allegations against the NYPD, the nation’s largest police force. But the publication also aims to shed light on the review process.
The CCRB has limited investigative powers, which means it cannot confirm a substantial amount of the thousands of complaints it receives every year. Part of this hinges on cooperation from the NYPD itself, notes ProPublica. While the NYPD has a legal duty to cooperate with the oversight board’s investigations, including handing over evidence such as bodycam footage, the department often doesn’t do this.
The database also includes civilian complaints of misconduct that the Board found did happen, but didn’t violate the NYPD’s rules.
“We understand the arguments against releasing this data. But we believe the public good it could do outweighs the potential harm,” said ProPublica Editor-in-chief Stephen Engelberg. “The database gives the people of New York City a glimpse at how allegations involving police misconduct have been handled, and allows journalists and ordinary citizens alike to look more deeply at the records of particular officers.”