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Tuesday, May 28, 2024 | Back issues
Courthouse News Service Courthouse News Service

Police Must Release Info to the New York Times

(CN) - The New York Times can look at records of city residents with gun permits and access an electronic database of reported hate crimes, a Manhattan judge ruled.

Justice Jane Solomon ordered the City of New York Police Department to release the requested records with deleted names and addresses of retired cops, and said the department could partly redact building numbers in the hate-crimes records.

But the court stopped short of sanctioning the NYPD for a "pattern and practice" of avoiding the release of information, saying that the department had a reasonable basis to withhold the records.

The New York Times Co. and Times journalists Jo Craven McGinty, Janet McGinty, Janet Roberts and Raymond Rivera sued the NYPD under the state's Freedom of Information Law for delaying or denying its requests.

Authorities had tried to block release of records of New Yorkers with gun permits because it said the information might endanger those named, including retired police officers and government employees.

But McGinty's affidavit showed the Times did not intend to share the information with third parties or use the addresses for solicitation or fundraising, Solomon found.

"Inasmuch as the Times could not control the use to which others might put the addresses requested from the NYPD, were the Times to place them on the Internet, Ms. McGinty's affidavit, in effect, bars the Times from putting the addresses on line," the 15-page decision states. "Accordingly, the Times is entitled to have the residential addresses of gun licensees in searchable electronic form, as already redacted to delete the names and addresses of retired law enforcement officers and several current or former civilian government employees."

Solomon also ordered the police to release a copy of its hate-crimes database to the newspaper.

"Here, the NYPD's legitimate concerns with the privacy of hate crime victims, and the public interest in not deterring such victims from reporting crimes to the police, can be allayed by replacing the last digit of the house numbers in the addresses with a dash, a deletion that petitioners suggest," Solomon wrote.

"Such a deletion would identify the address by the block, rather than by the individual house, and thus make identification of an individual victim highly unlikely," she added.

Solomon noted that the Times was "not concerned with the identity of the persons whose addresses it seeks, or with contacting them, but rather with identifying the frequency of hate crimes in various locations within the city."

"Accordingly, the disclosure of the addresses that the Times seeks, with the final digit of the street address redacted, would both protect the personal privacy of hate crime victims from unwarranted invasion and comply with the mandate of FOIL that agency records be available to the public to the greatest extent compatible with a narrow construction of exemptions from disclosure," Solomon wrote.

Since the police had a reasonable basis to delay responding to the Times' requests in a timely manner, the newspaper cannot seek attorneys' fees, according to the court.

New York Times spokeswoman Eileen Murphy told Courthouse News she was "pleased" with the ruling.

"The judge recognized that FOIL required the NYPD to be more open in providing information about its licensing of pistol permits and its disclosures about reports of bias crimes," Murphy said in a statement. "We also think it is significant that the court found that the NYPD routinely violates its duty to determine FOIL requests according to the timetable set in FOIL. While the court ultimately held that it could not order the police in this proceeding to comply with FOIL's deadlines, we are looking into our legal options for continuing to pursue that part of the case."

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