Whether you believe New York Civil Rights Law Section 50-a, aka, the “Police Shield Law”, was necessary to protect police officers, corrections officers, and firefighters from misuse of their personnel information or you supported the statute’s repeal because withholding or making it difficult to secure disciplinary records was an impediment to fair trials and justice, the New York City Police Department took an enormous step in its promise for more transparency. Although police departments across the state – from Nassau County to Erie County and everywhere in between – must determine how to comply with the repeal and the means by which this information is made available and accessible, the online NYPD Personnel Database contains officer profiles, a trial decision library, trial calendars, information about complaints by members of the public against police officers to Civilian Complaint Review Board (CCRB), a Discipline Matrix, and information about civil lawsuits alleging misconduct.
In criminal matters, where defense attorneys could use findings of misconduct and disciplinary sanctions to impeach a police officer or detective testifying at trial, the above materials could be incredibly valuable. At the same time, a complaint against an officer is not proof of wrongdoing just as the same holds true for the accused in a criminal proceeding. Instead, a case by case, or officer by officer, analysis accompanied by actual findings is paramount.
Solely for active uniformed officers, the information addresses anything from awards and disciplinary history to past arrests processed and training. Other relevant materials are also available.
Trial Decisions Library
After a disciplinary hearing or trial, the Trial Commissioner provides the Police Commissioner with a decision on each individual charge against a police officer, active or retired, and includes a finding of fact, an examination of relevant policies, and recommendations on penalties where there is a determination of guilt.
Even where there has been no finding, this monthly updated schedule provides brief information about upcoming trials.
Claims against members of the police department by the public to the CCRB, an independent agency outside law enforcement control, is accessible for review. These accusations can relate to matters of excessive force to lesser incidents of offensive language.
The Disciplinary System Penalty Guidelines sheds light on the standards and presumptive penalties relating to specified acts of misconduct while also identifying factors that may enhance or limit sanctions.
Although not all accusations result in a finding of responsibility or a lawsuit, those that do proceed by way of a legal action are shared by New York City Law Department pursuant to Administrative Code Section 7-114. The Law Department provides the names of the officers, the result of the case, and if there is a financial award, the payout amount. Keep in mind that not only is the amount not attributable to or broken down by individual defendants, but merely because there is a claim does not mean it has merit or there will be a disposition adverse to the officer.
Ultimately, how, if at all, the data made available by police departments across the state is valuable to a particular defendant is for the accused and his or her criminal defense attorney to determine. For that matter, the means by which this information is made public may vary from agency to agency. If nothing else, no matter if you supported or opposed the legislature’s repeal of the “Shield Law”, insight into law enforcement’s disciplinary process and procedures, as well as specific findings against members of the service, is a significant step forward in the pursuit of transparency.
Irrespective of whether you are arrested for a misdemeanor Assault or DWI or indicted for a felony Grand Larceny or Criminal Possession of a Controlled Substance in New York City, Westchester, Rockland, or anywhere else, it is imperative that your criminal lawyer take the time to examine available records such as those provide in the NYPD Personnel Database. While it may be that your counsel finds no sanctions or anything of consequences, he or she may also find a trove of valuable information that can greatly assist in your defense.
Saland Law PC, a New York criminal defense firm founded by two former Manhattan prosecutors, represents clients throughout the New York City and Lower Hudson Valley region.