Earlier this summer, in his mad rush to take a knee before the “protesters” burning down parts of New York City, Mayor Bill de Blasio made a public promise to publish a database containing records of police disciplinary cases on a city government website that would be available to the public. The PBA went to court to block that plan and last week a judge issued an injunction against the release of the data until she could hold a full hearing in a few weeks. The police had their own reasons for wanting this handled differently, while the Mayor’s supporters claimed it needed to be done immediately.
None of that matters now, however. As it turns out, ProPublica decided to take matters into their own hands and published the entire database on their website yesterday. How were they able to violate the judge’s order? Easy as pie, my friends. They simply claimed that the order didn’t apply to them. #HeadDesk (Associated Press)
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.
So a judge issued an injunction against releasing the database to the public, but ProPublica’s rationale was that they weren’t a party to the pending lawsuit and since they already had it anyway it would be fine. In any year other than 2020 that would be a really weird thing to say. Now it’s just another Monday.
At any rate, the complaint from the PBA obviously makes a couple of strong points, but how the eventually ruling should go remains up in the air. Bill de Blasio’s argument is that we need more transparency in terms of how the police operate, including possible disciplinary actions and misconduct on the part of officers. Perhaps I’ll surprise some of you by saying that I agree with that statement. Once all of these riots are finally behind us and things return to some semblance of “normal” (crossing my fingers), there are definitely steps we can take to build trust between law enforcement and those they protect and serve. Police officers who have been found guilty and disciplined for improper behavior might be examples of a moment of indiscretion, but they might also be demonstrating a pattern of bad behavior that has to be addressed.
But the database in question has a serious problem. It doesn’t just show the officers who have been found in violation of the rules and disciplined. It shows every complaint that is lodged, even if the officer is cleared. Being accused of something doesn’t mean that you are guilty and the police deserve that same presumption of innocence as much as any civilian suspect they bring in off the streets. Particularly given the mood of the public at present, a simple accusation (many of which are found to be patently false) would be enough for some of these rioters to be calling for their heads.
And those aren’t idle threats. We’ve already seen instances of officers in other parts of the country facing attacks at their homes after thugs discover their private information and track them down. This is little more than an effort at doxxing. And it can and very likely will wind up with a police officer or a member of their family paying for this violation of their privacy in a severe way.
If handled properly, this data could be used to accomplish something positive in terms of the relationship between the police and the public. In the wrong hands, it could turn into a weapon for those seeking to engage in mayhem. And I believe we learned this weekend that ProPublica represents the wrong hands.