The New York Civil Liberties Union is suing the Syracuse Police Department for denying their requests to access all records pertaining to complaints of police misconduct. The NYCLU claims the previously secret records are now authorized to be publicly disclosed following the repeal of section 50a of state civil rights law last year.
Senior Staff Attorney Bobby Hodgson says they’re seeking records of complaints that did and did not result in discipline.
“We don’t know what percentage of them result in discipline. We don’t know what processes exist and why certain complaints may end up being abandoned, not fully investigated, or may result in no discipline at all. That’s the type of information that obviously goes to the heart of understanding how police report to police themselves,” said Hodgson.
For example, Hodgson says thousands of complaints were made about New York City Police, but almost none resulted in discipline. He says that reveals significant structural problems with accountability which could also be the case in Syracuse and elsewhere.
“These are certainly the types of documents that would start to show us specific patterns, if they exist, of bias policing. For example, profiling people based on race, etc. That could lead to litigation. It could lead to advocacy. It could lead to large scale attempts of structural reform. Obviously there can’t be that type of accountability without transparency on the front end,” said Hodgson.
Hodgson says there is legal precedent to support their lawsuit.
“Every court that has looked at this question so far has been crystal clear and had found that the public is indeed entitled to see all complaints, not just the few that result in discipline.”
He says SPD is simply trying to reimpose section 50a under a different name, a position he calls egregious and untenable. The NYCLU lawsuit is part of a police transparency campaign seeking records from 12 departments statewide.