Scrambling to publish a database of complaints against NYPD officers
July 31, 2020 7:59 AM   Subscribe

Nonprofit investigative newsroom ProPublica launched The NYPD Files in a hurry - after New York lawmakers repealed a law that kept the public from seeing police discipline records, ProPublica filed a records request, and then police unions sued to keep the records secret, without realizing that ProPublica had those records. Now you can search NYPD complaints for abuse of authority, unnecessary force, and even discourtesy.

About the project

A ProPublica reporter's family sees a police car hit a kid, and tries to follow up

Your Questions, Answered
I don’t live in New York. How can I see information like this for my city?

We’re glad you asked! Andrew Ford, a reporter with the Asbury Park Press and a member of the ProPublica Local Reporting Network, wrote a handy guide on just this question! Read the full article here
How the project came about

Reporter and Deputy Managing Editor Eric Umansky joined ProPublica at its inception in 2008. He's overseen two Pulitzer Prize-winning projects and is a co-founder of Document Cloud.
posted by kristi (13 comments total) 47 users marked this as a favorite
 
A valid use of blockchain.
posted by fistynuts at 8:22 AM on July 31 [3 favorites]


“One unknown male fled the scene and ran across the hood of a stationary police car.”

Hey, stop hitting my fist with your face!

(Sorry; I know that isn't the point of the post, but it's so infuriating.)
posted by Ickster at 8:40 AM on July 31


Call me naive, but a few months ago I would have found this hugely unfair. After all, most of the claims were unsubstantiated. Why should an officer's name be besmirched by possibly false accusations? Today: We need this information for the entire country, now.
posted by Mr.Know-it-some at 9:11 AM on July 31 [8 favorites]


Call me naive, but a few months ago I would have found this hugely unfair. After all, most of the claims were unsubstantiated.

ProPublica has only made public incidents that have been substantiated by the Civilian Complaint Review Board.
posted by JackFlash at 9:18 AM on July 31 [42 favorites]


Yikes. How many unsubstantiated, but nonetheless true claims are there also? There must be a least some percentage. Also, are unsubstantiated claims/complaints against other regulated professions (law, psychotherapy, medical, etc) made public? If so, why should police be treated differently? Honest question, because I don't know.
posted by flamk at 9:53 AM on July 31 [2 favorites]


ProPublica has only made public incidents that have been substantiated by the Civilian Complaint Review Board.

I'm seeing plenty of records which are listed as "exonerated" (example) or "unsubstantiated" by the CCRB, in addition to "unsubstantiated". On the pages that list multiple incidents (example), there's an entire column for the CCRB conclusion. Are we looking at the same thing?

The explanatory article We’re Publishing Thousands of Police Discipline Records That New York Kept Secret for Decades makes it clear that they're only releasing records for *cops* who have at least one substantiated allegation, but then they include all the unsubstantiated & exonerated incidents for that officer as well. They of course make the very fair point that such judgments do not mean the conduct meets the standard of justice you or I would apply:
In other cases included in our database, investigators concluded that what a civilian alleged did happen, but the conduct was allowed by the NYPD’s rules. The Police Department’s guidelines often give officers substantial discretion, particularly around use of force. In the curious jargon of police oversight, those cases are classified as “exonerated.”
So they published plenty of incidents in which the officer got off scot-free, but those include not only cases where the complaint was unfounded, but also cases where the department didn't cooperate with the review board or because the rules allow wide latitude for use of substantial violence.
posted by daveliepmann at 9:54 AM on July 31 [10 favorites]


If so, why should police be treated differently? Honest question, because I don't know.

My second thought is that lawyers can be disbarred, and doctors can have their licenses stripped. Cops have a union that constantly pushes to protect its members, which is fine default behavior in a general union, and somewhat terrible when it comes to protecting members from legal consequences for their extremely anti-social actions.

My third thought is to respond with a question of my own: Well, why aren't there protests and rebellions about lawyers and malfeasance?
posted by XtinaS at 10:25 AM on July 31 [6 favorites]


Okay, dang, I didn't realize this existed, but I should've: Physician Data Center, wherein which one can look up the licensing status of a given doctor.

And also: The ABA National Lawyer Regulatory Data Bank is the only national repository of information concerning public regulatory actions relating to lawyers throughout the United States.

So I guess the big difference is that there's no existing official database related to police officers.
posted by XtinaS at 10:31 AM on July 31 [3 favorites]


From their newsletter about the project (the "How the project came about" link):
The unsubstantiated allegations in the data posed a more difficult question. Investigators had neither proved nor disproved them. In the end, we decided to include a terse description of those cases on the theory that their number and nature might help readers or other journalists see a pattern. We understood that some of these accusations may be exaggerated or even made up. But we agreed with the legislators’ view in repealing 50-a that the enormous power police officers wield can make them subject to more scrutiny than ordinary citizens.
I tend to think that information is sunshine, and sunshine disinfects, and that information asymmetry - when one side has all the information and the other side doesn't - is often an obstruction to justice. Without this information, we can't even assess questions like: how often are complaints filed, and what kind of complaints? How often do they prove to be substantiated? Do officers who are ultimately disciplined tend to receive more complaints?

I'm sure there are false complaints, and I'm equally sure there are incidents of officers violating policy and law that never generate official complaints. Without any access to the data, we can't even begin to assess the complaints that have made it into the system.

(If it were up to me, complaints against doctors and lawyers would all be public information, too, and most of those people aren't even employed by the public, as police officers are.)
posted by kristi at 10:38 AM on July 31 [7 favorites]


If so, why should police be treated differently?

Because practitioners of those other professions are not legally empowered to commit violence and murder to protect the interests of the state.
posted by solotoro at 11:42 AM on July 31 [27 favorites]


ProPublica keeps doing good work.
posted by doctornemo at 12:08 PM on July 31 [11 favorites]


(If it were up to me, complaints against doctors and lawyers would all be public information, too, and most of those people aren't even employed by the public, as police officers are.)

I think this would be a good idea. At the very least it could help highlight patterns of behaviour for things that individually might not result in disciplinary action but in the aggregate show problems, both with the practitioner as well as the investigatory and disciplinary body. Will frivolous complaints get released? Sure, but then people could also see that there wasn't actually anything to those complaints.
posted by any portmanteau in a storm at 12:37 PM on July 31 [1 favorite]


One of the developers is a friend and former colleague of mine. If you have specific questions, suggestions, etc, MeMail me and I'll pass them along.
posted by martin q blank at 1:01 PM on July 31 [2 favorites]


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