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NYCLU Wants to Shine a Light on Police Rulings

MANHATTAN (CN) - The New York Civil Liberties Union filed a petition Monday to expose confidential police department opinions from officer-misconduct cases.

These decisions remain top secret, even when the allegations have been substantiated by an oversight agency called the Civilian Complaint Review Board (CCRB).

"Given the intense public debate over aggressive NYPD practices like stop-and-frisk, and the troubling recent reports of spying, ticket-fixing, and other abusive and unlawful police behavior, the public has every right to know how Commissioner Kelly is holding his officers accountable for substantiated misconduct," NYCLU executive director Donna Lieberman said in a statement. "Unfortunately, the NYPD has once against demonstrated that it prefers secrecy and stonewalling to transparency and accountability."

According to the NYCLU's eight-page petition, allegations of illegal stop-and-frisk searches are among the most common complaints before the CCRB, whose 13 panelists are appointed by the mayor.

The NYCLU's most recent statistics found that police made more than 680,000 stops last year. Roughly 90 percent of those stopped were black and Latino. The group also found that nearly 90 percent were completely innocent.

Claims of racial bias also taint the NYPD's stop-and-frisk policy, but the petition does not state how such cases have gone before the CCRB. Whatever the number, the board lets very few complaints go to trial, according to the NYCLU.

"According to CCRB reports, the number of such cases that have gone to trial over the last five years are as follows: 2011: 17; 2010: 14; 2009: 20; 2008: 19; 2007: 11," the petition states.

Cases that do go to trial before the CCRB resemble traditional trials, except the NYPD appoints the judge. That judge then drafts an opinion to be forwarded to Commissioner Ray Kelly for a final review.

"The NYCLU has long been interested in learning of the legal and factual bases on which the police commissioner disposes of CCRB-substantiated cases that proceed to trial," the petition states. "To take just one example, the NYCLU wishes to see the legal analysis being used by the department to assess substantiated cases about stops and frisks. The NYCLU is deeply involved in stop-and- frisk issues, and complaints about stop-and-frisk are among the most common type of complaint received and substantiated by the CCRB."

The NYCLU says that it filed its first Freedom of Information Law (FOIL) request on Aug. 17, 2011, but the NYPD allegedly rejected that request and its appeal.

The matter will now go to an Article 78 proceeding, an avenue to challenge decisions by state and local agencies, in New York Supreme Court.

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