Ruling by Court Means Police in Syracuse and Rochester, NY, Can No Longer Shield Misconduct Records from the Public

Special to the Vanguard

New York, CA – Syracuse and Rochester police can no longer ignore the law and continue to shield their misconduct records from the public.  In the New York Civil Liberties Union’s (NYCLU) cases against the Syracuse and Rochester Police Departments, the Appellate Division issued the state’s first appellate-level decisions requiring that police departments disclose open and unsubstantiated disciplinary records, as well as records predating the 2020 repeal of section 50-a, to the public.

In one of the rulings, the court noted “the court erred in concluding that the personal privacy exemption under Public Officers Law § 87 (2)(b) creates a blanket exemption allowing respondents to categorically withhold the law enforcement disciplinary records at issue.”

It ordered the respondents “to review the requested law enforcement disciplinary records, identify those law enforcement disciplinary records or portions thereof that may be redacted or withheld as exempt, and provide the requested law enforcement disciplinary records to petitioner subject to any records or portions thereof that are redactions or exemptions pursuant to a particularized and specific justification for exempting each record or portion thereof.”

“For too long, Rochester and Syracuse residents have remained in the dark about officers accused of misconduct, the outcomes of investigations, and what discipline officers faced, if any. With the repeal of section 50-a, the state legislature meant for these documents to become public, and today the New York State appellate court affirmed for the first time that 50-a must be repealed in theory and in practice,” said Bobby Hodgson, supervising attorney at the NYCLU.

“Rochester and Syracuse Police Departments cannot withhold disciplinary records to which the public is legally entitled after the repeal of 50-a. Now, the public will finally know when and why Rochester and Syracuse police failed to impose discipline. With today’s decision, the appellate court made clear that police transparency is codified into law, and police departments can no longer argue that they must be trusted to police themselves, immune from public scrutiny.”

These proceedings are part of a statewide police transparency campaign in which the NYCLU and pro bono counsel filed state FOIL (Freedom of Information Law) requests with twelve police departments statewide and the New York State Department of Corrections and Community Supervision. As part of this campaign, the NYCLU has filed lawsuits against the New York State Police, as well as police departments in RochesterSyracuseFreeportTroyBuffalo, Nassau County, and Suffolk County for withholding public records. Courts statewide have rejected the vast majority of efforts to thwart accountability and disclosure following the repeal of 50-a, including in Schenectady following the NYCLU’s intervention.

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