On Thursday, New York City’s civilian police watchdog released a searchable database of complaints made against current and former NYPD officers. While much of the information contained in the Civilian Complaint Review Board’s database was made last summer by the New York Civil Liberties Union, the CCRB’s release of records marks the first time a city or state agency has made such a database available in compliance with last summer’s repeal of 50-a, the state law that had long shielded police-misconduct records from public scrutiny. The repeal was vehemently opposed by law-enforcement unions, which have spent the intervening months challenging the decision in court. The database’s launch comes a day after the Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit said the release of disciplinary records for police officers, corrections officers, and firefighters could begin immediately.
“The repeal of New York State Civil Rights Law Section 50-a — one of the most restrictive police-secrecy laws in the country — was a landmark moment for New Yorkers,” said CCRB chair Fred Davie. “This database is the first of its kind in New York City and the nation. We promised people that we would do everything we could to increase transparency of the NYPD, and we’ve done it. This is a big step for legitimizing civilian police oversight, and it opens the door for additional reforms.”
The CCRB’s database includes information on 34,811 active NYPD officers and 48,218 inactive officers, with complaints dating back to 2000. Details about each complaint are limited to the incident date, the type of complaint (force, abuse of authority, discourtesy, or offensive language), a one-or-two-word description of the allegation, and whether the complaint was substantiated. Unlike the NYCLU’s database and a smaller one published by ProPublica, information on the CCRB’s site will be updated on a daily basis. Further, users will be able to draw on the database to file Freedom of Information requests about individual cases from the CCRB, which may yield more detailed information about specific complaints.
The CCRB is not the only source of disciplinary records slated for release. The NYPD keeps its own such records, which include cases that are not under the CCRB’s jurisdiction. Police-reform advocates say the NYPD’s database will contain plenty of information the public has yet to see, but the city has yet to release that database despite yesterday’s federal ruling.
“The fact that the NYPD’s database hasn’t been published speaks to what they generally do, which is hide information for as long as they can,” said Joo-Hyun Kang, director of Communities United for Police Reform. “There is no excuse for why they couldn’t have pressed play today. Mayor de Blasio promised these databases last summer. There’s no reason they shouldn’t be ready to go.”
At a press conference on Thursday, NYPD assistant chief Matthew Pontillo said that next week the department will post “baseball card”–style profiles of each of its officers. Along with basic information like rank and assignment history, these profiles will include a disciplinary history for officers who have fought charges during internal trials, according to the Daily News. The first tranche of records will date back to 2018, with additional records going back to 2009 to come later.