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NYCLU Plans Appeal Of Ruling Allowing SPD To Withhold Most Complaints Made Against Officers

WAER file photo

The New York Civil Liberties Union says it will appeal a decision by a judge to reject its lawsuit against the Syracuse Police Department for denying access to records pertaining to complaints of police misconduct.  The NYCLU claims the previously secret records are now authorized to be publicly disclosed pursuant to a freedom of information request following the repeal of section 50a of state civil rights law.  Senior Staff Attorney Bobby Hodgson says the judge seems to have based his decision on a previously existing FOIL exemption.

"This decision has adopted the Syracuse Police Department's argument that as a blanket categorical matter, any complaint against a police officer that didn't result in discipline, the release of any portion of the complaint would constitute an invasion of privacy."

Hodgson says the law allows for the redaction of officers’ personal information while still releasing the basis of the complaints.  He says the NYCLU is seeking all records in order to know whether police are being held accountable.

"After this decision, we're left with an incomplete record that is only going to show the handful of instances where the Syracuse Police Department has in fact imposed discipline on its officers, and it's not going to show how many other complaints were out there, what happened to them, how they were investigated, why they did not result in discipline."

Hodgson says SPD is not alone.   NYCLU has filed similar lawsuits against the Rochester and Buffalo police departments.  He says the decision in favor of SPD is an outlier; most courts have rejected arguments to shield misconduct complaints from public scrutiny.