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Despite new law and court rulings, most police records remain hidden from public view in New York

Feb 22, 2023 1:03 am

Brendan J. Lyons reports in the Times Union that many New York police agencies are still fighting the release of some disciplinary files, even after the state changed the law to make the information available to citizens. It has been almost three years since New York repealed a statute that for more than four decades blocked the public scrutiny of police disciplinary records. The New York Civil Liberties Union is involved in lawsuits seeking the information from the State Police, state Department of Corrections and Community Supervision, and numerous other law enforcement agencies across the state. In many cases, police departments invoke a provision in the state Freedom of Information Law about how the release of open or unfounded complaints would result in an "unwarranted invasion of personal privacy" for the officers involved. But when the legislature repealed the 44-year-old statute in the wake of George Floyd's murder, they clearly wanted most police records to be made public. Assemblyperson Daniel J. O'Donnell, for instance, says it "was not my intent" to have unfounded, unsubstantiated or pending disciplinary complaints against police officers withheld on privacy grounds. In Rensselaer County recently, State Supreme Court Justice Richard J. McNally, Jr. ordered the city of Troy to turn over many police disciplinary records to the NYCLU, including records of unsubstantiated and unfounded complaints. And a state appellate court in western New York recently overturned two lower court decisions which would have allowed the Rochester and Syracuse police departments to issue blanket denials for police records sought by the NYCLU. And last year, a judge dismissed a case filed by the state troopers' union to keep most police records hidden. Read more about this story in the Times Union.

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