Last December, New York’s highest court rejected an attempt by the New York Civil Liberties Union to open up police personnel files to the public. New York is one of just three states that prohibit the public from accessing police personnel files. In New York, the secrecy is because of the way that police agencies and New York City’s lawyers have chosen to interpret the state’s open-records laws — or more specifically, one law in particular. They now have the blessing of the state’s courts. In his ruling, Judge Michael Garcia wrote, “These records are replete with factual details regarding misconduct allegations, hearing judges’ impressions and findings, and any punishment imposed on officers — material ripe for ‘degrading, embarrassing, harassing or impeaching the integrity of an officer.' ”

Maybe not “harassing,” but “embarrassing” or “impeaching the integrity” of some of these officers — and the supervisors who refuse to sufficiently punish them — is exactly what needs to happen. The NYCLU lawsuit, for example, came on the heels of a BuzzFeed report on and database of hundreds of leaked NYPD personnel files. That report, published in March of last year, found that "from 2011 to 2015 at least 319 New York Police Department employees who committed offenses serious enough to merit firing were allowed to keep their jobs.”

Many of the officers lied, cheated, stole, or assaulted New York City residents. At least fifty employees lied on official reports, under oath, or during an internal affairs investigation. Thirty-eight were found guilty by a police tribunal of excessive force, getting into a fight, or firing their gun unnecessarily. Fifty-seven were guilty of driving under the influence. Seventy-one were guilty of ticket-fixing. One officer, Jarrett Dill, threatened to kill someone.

All were allowed to keep their jobs. After protracted legal battles with police agencies across the state, the NYCLU obtained personnel, training and disciplinary files from some of them. What did the NYCLU find?

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The Albany Police Department couldn’t produce any policy on stops. The Nassau Police Department said they were unable to provide basic information on how many people its officers stopped or arrested. Buffalo had no provisions for transgender people in its strip search policy, and no policy to address bias or profiling by its officers. And the Syracuse Police Department had no meaningful guidance on using force, except for their Taser policy, which only exists as a result of a settlement with the NYCLU.
In short: there are very few policies in place that police the police.

The latest example is Sgt. David Grieco, courtesy of the New York Daily News.

A much-sued NYPD sergeant has cost the department another $38,000 after the city settled a lawsuit with a Brooklyn woman who said the cop led a bogus raid on her Brownsville apartment.
Evelyn Gonzalez, 51, and family friend Tray Stroman, 27, said the cop, David Grieco, even ate bananas in her home as he ransacked the apartment on April 13, before busting them on trumped up charges that were dropped before they even got to see a judge.
Gonzalez, who settled for $20,000, said she was not asked to sign a consent form for the search, and when she asked if police had a warrant, she was shown a restaurant takeout flyer.

As it turns out, Grieco has been sued three dozen times. The city has settled 17 of those cases at a collective price tag of over $500,000. Eleven cases are still pending. He has also been disciplined eight times for failing to issue reports, and twice for searching homes without a warrant. Searching a home without a warrant is a violation of the Fourth Amendment rights of the people inside those homes. That should merit some serious punishment. Grieco was docked two vacation days.

If there’s one Sgt. Grieco, there are likely more. The city should be held accountable when bad cops infringe on the rights of New York residents, and there ought to be accountability when the same names turn up over and over. But there can’t be any accountability if there’s no transparency. The public can’t be outraged over infractions about which it is never made aware.

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And that seems to be exactly the state in which New York’s legislature and courts want to keep the public — unaware.

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