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“..the only way you can make that showing [of police misconduct] is by getting your hands on the records. So it’s a classic governmental catch-22.”
“… the NYPD secrecy, the code of silence, is something that doesn’t even just come from the top brass at the NYPD, but comes from our political leadership…”
Since 1873, we’ve really had these great laws that required government to turn over personnel records, papers, documents to citizens when they ask, because it’s their government, right?
But since 1873, the only agency– there was two agencies that were exempted from that law. And one was in– well, I won’t ask you to try to guess. It was NYPD and the Law Department, the city’s Law Department. So we feel that the NYPD secrecy, the code of silence, is something that doesn’t even just come from the top brass at the NYPD, but comes from our political leadership, the people who are supposed to be serving all of us and not just the police department.
And in fact, after the Freedom of Information Law, which guarantees, a state guarantee, to open all books and records to the public, in 1976, two years after that law was passed, an amendment to the Civil Rights Law, of all things, the Civil Rights Law, was passed exempting NYPD personnel records from the Freedom of Information Law. And that’s where we’re actually at today.
So we think that you’re doing something tremendously important, which is your database of police misconduct. So we would love to hear you start talking about it.
Well, it’s exactly because of the Civil Rights Law Amendment from 1976 that we are put into a position in the Public Defender’s Office of needing to have a database of our own because we have to, according to this law, show a clear showing of fact in order to get the records we’re asking the judge to let us have access to.
The Gissendanner motion.
So the entire need for the database comes from this law, which is one of the most restrictive laws in the country. In 27 other states, and this was in a recent New York Times– I forget if it was in the editorials from last weekend or the article two weeks ago– in 27 other states, police records are completely open. You request them, and they are sent to you.
And then for those 27 states, plus another 11 states, I guess, totaling 41, 41 states, the police records only share the same protections of any other state employee. So New York is one of the only states that gives special rights to police records as opposed to other state employee records.
How do these other states manage to maintain law and order with their police files open like that?
Just imagine the amount of misconduct that they can deter from actually having an open system that holds police officers accountable.
And we’ve had cases where we request police officers’ former records from departments that they were in in other states like Florida.
And it’s just sent. There’s no–
Oh, that’s brilliant.
–motion we have to write or anything to get it. It’s just part of the process.
But because we’re in this funny position of having to ask judges to get something that we need to kind of be able to know what we want before we know what we’re asking for, we need to have our collective knowledge of an institution cataloged so that we don’t have to duplicate efforts for investigations for one thing. And also, so that we have enough to sustain our Gissendanner motion, right, and actually get the entire personnel record as it’s relevant to a particular case.
Right. Yeah, the Gissendanner thing, it was always the great catch-22. So Gissendanner said in order to get the records of the police officer testifying against you, you had to make a showing that he was engaged in misconduct. And the only way you can make that showing is by getting your hands on the records. So it’s a classic governmental–
And for a few months when I first started, we were actually getting a summary from the CCRB. So we could say we want to know what this officer’s CCRB history is, and they would write back and say, well, we’re not going to send you the records– and they would site Civil Rights Law 50-a– but we’ll send you the summary.
And then that ended in the fall, and we started [INTERPOSING VOICES].
Who put an end to that?
It was not clear exactly who put an end to it. It did happen at the same time that their executive director changed.
When Richard Emery came in?
Not when he came in, but when Tracy Catapano-Fox went out.
Richard Emery’s the chair. He’s–
Oh, got you.
But so we actually filed an Article 78 today, which–
Oh, do tell.
–requests that the court order a summary of Officer Pantaleo’s CCRB history.
And Officer Pantaleo is the officer who, well, who killed Eric Garner, right?
Wow, that’s tremendous.
Which if you look at a quick Google search of the news, you can find Mr. Garner’s complete arrest history–
–convictions, arrests, everything–
Sealed, sealed [INTERPOSING VOICES].
–is detailed, yes, is detailed in the news. However, no one has released any information about whether Mr. Pantaleo has prior cases involving misconduct.