NEW YORK – Days after a federal judge paused the public release of New York City police disciplinary records, a news website has published a database containing complaint information for thousands of officers.
ProPublica posted the database Sunday, explaining in a note to readers that it isn't obligated to comply with Judge Katherine Polk Failla's temporary restraining order because it is not a party to a union lawsuit challenging the release of such records.
Deputy Managing Editor Eric Umansky said ProPublica requested the information from the city’s police watchdog agency, the Civilian Complaint Review Board, soon after last month's repeal of state law that for decades had prevented the disclosure of disciplinary records.
Unions representing police officers and other public safety workers sued the city on July 15 to block Mayor Bill de Blasio from making good on a pledge to start posting misconduct complaints on a government website. The unions argue that allowing the public to see unproven or false complaints could sully officers’ reputations and compromise their safety.
A state judge who first handled the case had issued a narrower restraining order that temporarily blocked the public disclosure of records concerning unsubstantiated and non-finalized allegations or settlement agreements.
ProPublica said it excluded allegations that investigators deemed unfounded from the material it published. In all, the searchable database contains 12,056 complaints against 3,996 active NYPD officers.
“We understand the arguments against releasing this data. But we believe the public good it could do outweighs the potential harm,” ProPublica Editor-in-Chief Stephen Engelberg said. “The database gives the people of New York City a glimpse at how allegations involving police misconduct have been handled, and allows journalists and ordinary citizens alike to look more deeply at the records of particular officers.”
Failla's ruling Wednesday blocks the CCRB, the police department and other entities from disclosing disciplinary records until at least Aug. 18, when she’ll hear arguments in the case. In issuing the temporary restraining order, Failla also barred the New York chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union from publicly releasing records it had already obtained.
The organization said it requested officer misconduct complaints from the CCRB under the state’s open records law and received them before the union’s lawsuit was filed. Like ProPublica, the NYCLU argued it was not a party to the lawsuit.
“The federal court has no authority to bar us from making it public, and we will contest this unprecedented order as quickly as possible,” NYLU legal director Christopher Dunn said.