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Appellate-level court ruling forces Syracuse Police to release officer disciplinary records

A blue sign that says "City of Syracuse Department of Police" sits outside a brown building.
Maxwell Mimaroglu
/
WAER News
Syracuse Police Station in downtown on Feb. 16, 2022.

The Syracuse Police Department may soon have to release all disciplinary records regarding officer conduct after a state appellate court ruling.  The city had previously denied access to the records even after the state legislature repealed a rule amending the state’s freedom of information law in 2020. 

The New York Civil Liberties Union filed FOIL requests with the City of Syracuse and several other departments in an attempt to force them to comply. Supervising attorney Bobby Hodgson said the repeal of section 50-A
was intended to make the documents public from the beginning. He said the ruling is a vital first step toward having informed conversations about police accountability.

“Every record that had to do with police misconduct investigations for decades was completely secret in New York until this law changed, "Hodgson said. "This is our first glimpse into what has the agency been doing when someone comes to it and says, ‘I was mistreated, this happened, please fix it.’”

Hodgson says the public should know how the department is handling misconduct complaints and how long they’re taking. Syracuse, Rochester, and other agencies have issued blanket denials citing officer privacy and safety concerns. Hodgson said the law doesn’t allow certain information to be released.

“What we want is the substance of these records to show how these police investigations are happening, and what sort of discipline is resulting or not," Hodgson said. "There are many mechanisms here for the agency to go through, redact the information that the law says they can redact, and turn over the rest, which is what is really important for the public to see.”

Hodgson said Syracuse and the other departments in their lawsuit aren’t the first to face questions about officer disciplinary records. He said the documents from other, sometimes much larger departments, have been public for decades and have not resulted in negative consequences. Hodgson hopes this court decision finally settles the matter and that the city chooses to comply rather than appeal to the state’s highest court.

Scott Willis covers politics, local government, transportation, and arts and culture for WAER. He came to Syracuse from Detroit in 2001, where he began his career in radio as an intern and freelance reporter. Scott is honored and privileged to bring the day’s news and in-depth feature reporting to WAER’s dedicated and generous listeners. You can find him on twitter @swillisWAER and email him at srwillis@syr.edu.