A Manhattan trial judge found that New York City Police Department shooting incident reports fall under the state Freedom of Information Law and must be made available when requested. The Feb. 14 decision, made by state Supreme Court Justice Emily Jane Goodman, found that the reports should be redacted and made available when requested.
The New York Civil Liberties Union filed suit against the NYPD after a FOIL request was denied. The NYCLU sought copies of all shooting incident reports made since January 1997. The organization requested shooting incident reports prepared within 24 hours and reports prepared 90 days after a shooting incident. The union specifically sought reports from any occasion when police officers discharged their firearms at civilians. Documents describing or analyzing the race of those involved in these NYPD shootings since 1990 were also requested, according to the court opinion.
A FOIL request for the information was denied by the NYPD initially and on administrative appeal. The NYPD cited open records law exemptions that exempt the disclosure of certain documents that may "constitute an unwarranted invasion of personal privacy" or "interfere with law enforcement investigations," among others.
Goodman found that the reports requested were "not categorically exempt," agreeing with the NYCLU's reasoning that the "reports contain primarily 'factual data', and the exemption does not 'justify' complete non-disclosure."
Therefore, the court found that "with proper redaction of . . . identifying personal information," the reports requested by the NYCLU "are clearly subject to FOIL disclosure."
In a separate 2009 case the NYCLU filed against the NYPD, the NYCLU was granted access to "documents identifying the race of all persons shot by police officers either in 'gunfights' or 'other shooting incidents,'" including persons shot but not struck.
Christopher Dunn, associate legal director of the NYCLU, expressed the organization's happiness with the success of both court cases. "The NYPD is terrible when it comes to disclosing public information, particularly around shootings, and we hope that these two rulings will put an end to that," Dunn said.
The Deputy Commissioner's Office refused comment.