There were two cases last week concerning increased NYPD transparency that highlighted the distinction between clarity and a muddle. The first was the disciplinary trial of officer Richard Haste for one of the most notorious shootings of an unarmed black man this decade; the second, and more important one, was a $3000 settlement of a lawsuit filed by the Empire Center for Public Policy.
For years, the department has posited absurd arguments as to why it could not release basic operational information to the public, including: refusing to release sexual assault locations because doing so might violate the victim’s privacy; refusing to release data on the number of traffic fatalities because it forced an “unprecedented burden” on the department; and refusing to compile a breakdown on criminal activity in the city’s parks because it lacked the technology.
Judge Kathryn Freed, however, in granting the Empire Center’s Freedom of Information Law request, used a common sense standard for when the NYPD should release information, holding the department should do so concerning undercover officers if the release would not “in any way endanger [the officers], impede their work, or give valuable information to those attempting to evade [the officers] investigations.”
Contrast this clarity to NYPD Deputy Commissioner Kevin Richardson’s hesitant muddle as to how (note, not why) the city will disclose the result of officer Haste’s trial, reversing its previous refusal under Section 50-a of the New York State Civil Rights Law to release any disciplinary information about an officer: “working collectively with the Law Department, we will figure out the parameters of how we can regularly disclose the information as regularly as possible, while 50-a exists.”
Of course, these “parameters” will not be figured out by the time officer Haste’s disciplinary trial concludes, meaning that the decision to release the trial’s result is being subjected to the same political calculus that previously determined whether NYPD trial results would be released to the public. Except that this time, it won’t be the same: as Commissioner Richardson noted, the department won’t release the disciplinary trial judge’s decision, or her recommendations as to any punishment. All of which gives the public less officer disciplinary information than before Mayor Bill deBlasio made the self-injurious attempt to throw a political loop around Governor Andrew Cuomo’s neck by prohibiting such releases.
Any release regarding officer discipline should answer five questions: who is being disciplined; what is the misconduct alleged or sanction being imposed; why does the misconduct violate the discipline code; when did the misconduct occur; and where is the command in which the officer works? The department has no procedure to answer any of these questions because historically they have been unaccountable and secretive. But ultimately, providing officer disciplinary information is a political decision and the only one accountable for the lack of such a procedure is the Mayor who claimed his administration would be the most transparent in history.