NEW YORK — BuzzFeed News has obtained and published a database of nearly 18,000 New York Police Department disciplinary findings amid a fight over whether city police disciplinary records should remain secret.
The digital media company published the leaked records of NYPD employees from between 2011 and 2015 on its website on Monday, saying there was an “overwhelming public interest” in the documents.
The database shows various offenses, from tardiness to excessive force. Penalties ranged from loss of vacation days to removal from the police department.
Police officials stopped providing NYPD disciplinary proceeding outcomes in 2016, though they had previously done so for decades.
The secrecy is the result of a state law protecting the privacy of officer disciplinary records, and a recent city decision to adhere to the confidentiality rules more closely — a move that puts America’s largest police force at odds with a national movement to make law enforcement more transparent to the public.
Patrick J. Lynch, the president of the Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association, a local police union, released a strong rebuke of the documents’ release:
BuzzFeed either doesn’t realize or doesn’t care how their ‘database’ of illegally leaked police personnel records will be used. They are creating the perfect tool for unstable individuals with a grudge against cops to identify and go after police officers and their families. If BuzzFeed’s reporters can use this information to harass police officers in their front yards, you can bet that individuals with even worse intentions will be able do the same. Police officers are already the target of retaliatory attacks, including the attempted mail bomb attack on an NYPD member last year, without this additional assistance from the press. These records should never have been illegally released in the first place, and the Police Commissioner and NYPD leadership bear the greatest responsibility to enforce the law and protect the safety and privacy of their own employees. They need to immediately identify the source of the leak and hold those responsible accountable.
Concerns over transparency of the NYPD’s disciplinary system took hold after the city appealed a decision by a state court judge ordering the release of the records of Daniel Pantaleo, the officer accused of putting Eric Garner in a fatal chokehold in 2014. A grand jury declined to indict the officer on criminal charges.
Since then, politicians and police reform activists have been pushing city officials for full disciplinary disclosure.
Recently, the city’s police commissioner said he would begin releasing disciplinary reports with the offending officer’s names redacted. A judge last week blocked that move after the city’s largest police union filed an emergency request. A hearing is set for June.