MANHATTAN (CN) - New York City's number-crunchers can analyze roughly 850,000 sealed summonses, as long as the identifying information contained in them is obscured, a federal judge ruled on Wednesday.
The city hopes that the trove of summonses will help build their case in a six-year-old class action accusing the NYPD of running an unconstitutional quota system in the Bronx.
East Harlem resident Sharif Stinson brought the class action on behalf of hundreds of thousands of black New Yorkers in 2010, accusing the New York City Police Department of pushing officers to issue phony summonses to meet so-called "productivity goals."
Late last year, U.S. District Judge Robert Sweet rejected the city's first attempt to unseal the records of everyone who received criminal summonses between May 1, 2007 and the present, to protect New Yorkers' privacy.
City lawyers urged him to reconsider that decision to help allow them to perform statistical analysis for their defense at trial.
New York City Public Law typically treats the records of closed criminal cases as confidential unless one has ended in a conviction.
Citing an exception to this rule, the city pointed to the landmark stop-and-frisk case Floyd v. City of New York. Both of the parties in this case rummaged through the forms that police fill out during street stops for their experts to scrutinize what role racial profiling played in the NYPD's controversial program.
New York's expert ultimately lost in that case, and the city is now two years into federal monitoring to reform the stop-and-frisk program.
On Wednesday, Sweet allowed the city to attempt a similar statistical study to the one used in Floyd.
"There exists a possibility that experts can aggregate the written narratives and produce probative evidence," he wrote in a 10-page opinion. "Unsealing is therefore permissible for that purpose."
A New York City Law Department spokesman said he is "pleased" with the ruling.
"Having the officers' versions of events will help the city defend against allegations that summonses were served without probable cause," he added.
Stinson's lawyer Elinor Sutton noted in a phone interview that the second part of the ruling ordered the identifying information of the officers and their targets redacted.
"Plaintiffs are pleased that the court has narrowly tailored discovery and protected the privacy rights of hundreds of thousands of New Yorkers who we believe had their constitutional rights violated by the NYPD," she said.
"Access to this narrowly tailored information will help plaintiffs prove liability in this matter," she added.