By Frederick H. Lowe
ProPublica, a nonprofit newsroom, has compiled a database of previously secret New York police disciplinary records obtained from the New York City’s Civilian Complaint Review Board. The database is open to the public and can help individuals examine patterns of officer misconduct.
“We understand the arguments against releasing this data. But we believe the public good outweighs the potential harm,” said Stephen Engelberg, ProPublica’s editor and chief. “The database gives people of New York City a glimpse at how allegations involving police misconduct have been handled, and allows journalists, ordinary citizens alike to look more deeply at the records of particular officers.”
The data focuses on 3,996 officers who have received 12,056 complaints, from September 1985 to January 2020. There are 36,000 officers who are members of the NYPD. “We have created a database of complaints that can be searched by name or browsed by precinct,” ProPublica said.
“The database lists involve active-duty officers who’ve had at least one allegation against them substantiated by the Civilian Review Board. “And every complaint in the database was fully investigated by CCRB, which means, among other steps, a civilian provided a sworn statement to investigators,” ProPublica wrote.
The complaints involve 7, 636 allegations of use of excessive force, 20,292 allegations of officers using police powers to take unwarranted actions, such as an unlawful search, 4,677 allegations of discourtesy, 753 allegations of offensive language. This would include an officer using one or more slurs relating to races, gender, ethnicity, religion, or sexual orientation or disability.
According to the records, 303 officers still employed by the NYPD have had five or more substantiated allegations against them.
The database’s purpose is to provide clarity and give victims the incentive to do more research.
Until last month, New York State prohibited the release of police officers’ disciplinary records. Civilian complaints of abuse by officers were a secret. So were the investigators’ conclusions. The public couldn’t even know if the officer was held accountable. These records can help readers examine the records of officers who have been the subject of a pattern of complaints.
The report mentions Eric Garner, 43, who was killed by Officer Daniel Pantaleo on July 14, 2014, for selling untaxed cigarettes. Pantaleo used an illegal chokehold to kill Garner, who complained he couldn’t breathe. His final breaths became the rallying cry for the Black Lives Matter movement.
Pantaleo had a record of misconduct. The city investigator who revealed that information was forced to resign in 2017 but Pantaleo was not fired until 2019.
The murder of George Floyd on May 5 by Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin ignited worldwide protests. Activists in New York renewed their push to repeal the
statute known as 50-a, that kept police disciplinary records secret from the public. Lawmakers finally agreed to repeal 50-a which had been on the books for decades.