The New York City Police Department refused to release any arrest or incident reports from its undercover operation when officers dressed as FedEx and Amazon delivery workers in the New York City subway in late June, citing privacy laws that experts say do not apply to these records. The denial fits a long-standing pattern of the NYPD and other public agencies in New York that “frequently ignore, and delay and obstruct the release of public records,” according to Reinvent Albany, a good government advocacy group.
Motherboard filed a Freedom of Information Law request for all incident reports from the Myrtle-Broadway subway station in Brooklyn on the day the undercover operation took place, which the NYPD told Motherboard was for the purposes of “deterring criminal activity such as pick pockets and sexual offenders.” The NYPD rejected the request because releasing the records would “constitute an unwarranted invasion of personal privacy,” even though the NYPD regularly releases incident reports to reporters upon request. Motherboard has appealed the NYPD’s FOIL rejection.
“I don’t know that it surprises me, but it certainly disappoints me,” New York Civil Liberties Union supervising attorney Bobby Hodgson told Motherboard about the rejection. He said the law the NYPD cited as grounds for the rejection is, in fact, very clear that, in Hodgson’s words, “when redaction is possible, wholesale withholding isn’t permitted.” Hodgson said it is “very hard to see how FOIL’s personal privacy exemption would justify the wholesale withholding of these incident reports.”
Hodgson was not surprised by the NYPD’s rejection because it fits with the agency’s pattern of behavior. “The abuse and misuse of this particular exemption is unfortunately something we see a lot in the FOIL community,” Hodgson said. After the notorious 50-A provision that kept police department disciplinary records secret was repealed in 2020, police have refused to release those records for, among other reasons, the same privacy provisions cited in the rejection of Motherboard’s recent request.
“The public has a right to know how they’re being policed,” Hodgson said. “The fact that [the NYPD] is resisting it at every turn is very troubling and frustrating and not good for anyone.”