New York City can publish disciplinary files on NYPD officers, a federal appeals court ruled Tuesday in a blow to police unions that have fought to keep them under wraps.
The 20-page decision upholds the state Legislature’s repeal last June repeal of 50-a, a state law that has allowed the NYPD and other police departments to prevent the public from accessing disciplinary records.
It was unclear when the records would actually be published.
“Good riddance to 50-a. We look forward to releasing this data and will seek clarity from the court regarding when these records can be released,” Mayor de Blasio said in a statement.
Police unions argued that releasing disciplinary records would harm cops’ future job opportunities and put their safety at risk. They were joined in their legal fight by unions for firefighters and correction officers.
The unanimous three-judge panel in the Manhattan-based 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals rejected the union arguments and upheld a lower court ruling allowing the release of the data.
“Despite evidence that numerous other States make similar records available to the public, the Unions have pointed to no evidence from any jurisdiction that the availability of such records resulted in harm to employment opportunities,” the court wrote.
“We fully and unequivocally respect the dangers and risks police officers face every day,” the decision went on. “But we cannot say that the District Court abused its discretion when it determined that the Unions have not sufficiently demonstrated that those dangers and risks are likely to increase because of the City’s planned disclosures.”
The court added: “[M]any other States make similar misconduct records at least partially available to the public without any evidence of a resulting increase of danger to police officers.”
The New York Civil Liberties Union has already posted more than 300,000 CCRB complaints against officers. The new ruling will apply to a larger batch of documents.
The NYPD watchdog Civilian Complaint Review Board previously said it plans to allow the public to search officer histories on its website.
It wasn’t immediately clear if the coalition of unions would pursue a long-shot appeal to the Supreme Court.
But coalition spokesman Hank Sheinkopf said the unions would continue the legal fight by focusing on privacy protections associated with the state’s Freedom of Information Law.
“Today’s ruling does not end our fight to protect members’ safety and due process rights. The FOIL law provides exemptions that allow public employers to protect employees’ safety and privacy,” said Sheinkopf.
In a statement, the city Law Department said the city’s “planned release of these records was consistent with the law and the enhanced transparency the legislature intended. We are gratified by this court ruling.”