Over 300,000 complaints about New York Police Department officer misconduct have been released due to a new database from the New York Civil Liberties Union published Thursday.
The complaints all come from reports compiled from the New York City Civilian Complaint Review Board (CCRB), an independent agency that investigates complaints of police wrongdoing against civilians.
The database contains information about 323,911 complaints dating back to 1985 concerning 81,550 different officers. That’s an average of 923 complaints a year.
Out of those complaints, only 8,699 led to an NYPD penalty, according to a news release from the NYCLU. In the CCRB reports, 19,833 officers were named in five or more complaints, but only 12 officers were terminated or dismissed by the department, according to the dataset. Over 20,800 of the complaints were substantiated by the CCRB.
“Until now, the police accountability process has been at the discretion of the NYPD, which determines which CCRB investigations result in discipline and what information is revealed from that process,” said Christopher Dunn, legal director of the NYCLU. “History has shown the NYPD is unwilling to police itself. The release of this database is an important step towards greater transparency and accountability and is just the beginning of unraveling the monopoly the NYPD holds on public information and officer discipline.”
The NYCLU obtained the full records of the database from the CCRB through a FOIL request before the city’s misconduct database became the subject of a lawsuit filed by a group of police, correction, and fire unions against the mayor and the CCRB. As a result of an order in that case, the CCRB is blocked from further sharing this information with the public, which makes the NYCLU’s release all the more important.
What made the release of the complaints possible was the state legislature’s repeal of Section 50-a of New York’s Civil Rights Law in June. The 44-year-old statute deems the “personal records” of police officers, firefighters and corrections officers “confidential and not subject to review” without the officer’s permission.
On June 17, Mayor Bill de Blasio announced he would direct the NYPD to create a database containing information on all officers who have faced departmental charges for misconduct.
Some activists groups like Communities United For Police Reform and progressive politicians have pushed for 50-a’s repeal over the last eight years. The law was finally changed though due to mounting pressure for police reform during the second wave of the Black Lives Matter Movement over the summer sparked by the death of George Floyd.
The database was originally set to be published last month on July 23. But during a hearing on July 22, a federal court barred the NYCLU from publishing or sharing the records. The judge’s stay was extended by the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit which stopped the NYCLU from publishing the database. But today the gag order was lifted.
“The NYPD needs to be accountable to the city it serves, and that cannot happen so long as they continue to operate behind a wall of secrecy,” said Donna Lieberman, executive director of the NYCLU. “As we reconsider and reimagine the role of police in New York, we need an honest reckoning with the NYPD’s long, violent history. Sharing information about officers with long histories of misconduct is a public safety imperative and a first step toward justice for people who have experienced police brutality. This data hardly reflects the entire story of broken windows policing and police impunity, but it helps paint the picture of the dangerous, violent outcomes created for so many Black and Brown New Yorkers as a result.”
Database records contain complaints of officers for “excessive force, abuse of authority, discourtesy and offensive language” against the public, according to the news release. All records contain the officers’ name, rank, precinct or other command, detailed complaint, CCRB final finding on the validity of the complaint and notes on any disciplinary action taken by the NYPD. The database contains no records of cases the CCRB is still investigating, according to the NYCLU.