MANHATTAN (CN) – Roughly a month after a records leak exposed a climate of impunity at the NYPD, the city’s largest police union won a temporary restraining order Wednesday that keeps officers’ disciplinary records from seeing sunlight by more traditional channels.
“The demand for ‘transparency’ doesn’t trump the law or the safety of New York City police officers,” Patrick Lynch, president of the New York City Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association, said in a statement.
Represented by the firm Kasowitz Benson, the New York City Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association petitioned for such relief a day earlier in Manhattan Supreme Court. The suit came on the heels of an BuzzFeed investigation that studied at least 319 confidential disciplinary records.
As documented in the explosive article, the NYPD opted not to take the badges of dozens of officers whom a police tribunal found guilty between 2011 and 2015 of offenses like excessive force, sexual harassment, drunken driving and ticket-fixing.
Though state law protects police disciplinary records from disclosure, the Buzzfeed article spurred a call for more transparency.
“There are cracks in the NYPD’s blue wall of silence,” the New York Daily News announced on March 29, reporting that the NYPD would start releasing summaries of disciplinary reports shielding the officer’s name.
Civil rights advocates labeled the proffer inadequate, but the threat of partial disclosure led the police union on Monday to attack the measure as an “Orwellian” breach of privacy.
“Under the approach advocated by respondents, politicians would be free to selectively and permanently release ‘summaries’ of confidential documents without any notice to the person whose records they seek to disclose so long as the politicians or their appointees apply redactions that they, in their sole discretion, consider to be adequate to protect the anonymity of the person(s) described in the records,” the 18-page petition states.
State civil rights law shields New York police from scrutiny of all “personnel records used to evaluate performance,” treating those records as “confidential and not subject to inspection or review” without consent from the officer or a court order.
While critics contend that police have interpreted the statute too broadly, the NYPD claims an acceptable compromise could come from providing information from the records in redacted form.
As the union notes in Monday’s filing, however, the NYPD took the opposite position this past February in an unrelated challenge involving confidential disciplinary records.
Arguing before the New York Court of Appeals, as quoted by the union, the NYPD said disciplinary records qualify as confidential personnel records except when disclosure is ordered by a court for an ongoing lawsuit.
The police union also notes that redacting names from the records will not shield the privacy of the implicated officers.
“Journalists routinely engage in the exact type of cross-referencing that would allow an officer to be identified despite the redaction of his name,” its petition states, citing coverage in BuzzFeed and The New York Times.
City Hall and the NYPD did not immediately respond to email request for comment.
This is not the first time the union went to court to prevent public scrutiny of officers. The organization filed a similar lawsuit in January seeking to block the release of body-cam footage of three police-related shootings.
In both cases the union is represented by Michael Bowe of Kasowitz Benson Torres.