MANHATTAN (CN) - The New York Civil Liberties Union claims the New York County District Attorney is "stonewalling" its requests for information about an NYPD program that has led to trespassing arrests for people entering their own apartment buildings.
The NYCLU sued the District Attorney's Office in a Freedom of Information Law complaint in New York County Court.
The 9-page complaint demands information about the District Attorney's Trespass Affidavit Program, by which landlords can have police officers patrol their building.
The program is a part of Operation Clean Halls.
Since the program began in 1991, the NYCLY says, tenants have sent it "numerous reports" that police officers have stopped them and their guests without reasonable suspicion, and even busted some for criminal trespass in their own buildings.
"These reports, in combination with the high substantiation rate of complaints lodged with the Civilian Complaint Review Board ('CCRB') against NYPD police officers patrolling TAP buildings and public housing complexes in 2008 and 2009, led the NYCLU to seek documents and records from the Manhattan District Attorney's office ... concerning TAP under the Freedom of Information Law," the complaint states. "NYCLU requested policies and procedures related to the program, a roster of buildings currently enrolled in TAP (the 'TAP Roster'), data concerning arrests for trespassing made pursuant to TAP and information related to all misdemeanor and violation trespass arrests within New York County during 2009 and 2010."
The District Attorney's office refused to release the information, out of deference to the privacy of the landlords, and claimed public safety exemptions on appeal.
The NYCLU called that explanation "highly curious."
"District Attorney's position is both plainly unsupported by law and highly curious because a residential building's enrollment in TAP is no secret," the complaint states. "Indeed, the District Attorney requires that all buildings participating in TAP post conspicuous signage to that effect at building entrances, thereby publicizing each participating building's enrollment to residents, guests and passers-by. Thus, the primary issue presented in this Article 78 proceeding is whether the District Attorney may invoke FOIL exemptions to withhold from the public a record containing the addresses of buildings enrolled in a program which mandates that buildings publicly announce their participation in that program as a condition of enrollment."
The reach of the program is enormous, according to the NYCLU.
"Upon information and belief, the NYPD conducts hundreds of thousands of vertical patrols in Operation Clean Halls-enrolled buildings within New York City, resulting in thousands of arrests, annually," the complaint states. "As of May 2010, the District Attorney reported hundreds of arrests in New York County alone, stemming from police patrols of the over 3,200 private residential buildings participating in TAP."
The program allegedly has kept the Civilian Complaint Review Board busy handling the concerns of disgruntled tenants.
"In 2010, the Civilian Complaint Review Board, a city agency that investigates complaints of police misconduct, reported a spike in complaints concerning officer misconduct in buildings enrolled in Operation Clean Halls," the NYCLU said in a statement announcing its lawsuit.
In its complaint, the NYCLU says the case "implicates the rights for thousands of New York County residents in their daily lives to be free from unreasonable searches and seizures at home or at the home of family and friends."
"There is no good reason to withhold this information from the public," NYCLU executive director Donna Lieberman said in the statement. "People have raised serious concerns that the NYPD is using this program to bring its unlawful stop-and-frisk practices into apartment buildings - literally into people's homes. These concerns can only be resolved through transparency, not stonewalling."
A spokeswoman for the District Attorney's Office declined comment.