New York’s police privacy law has kept the public in the dark about acts of misconduct, even crimes, committed by police officers entrusted with safeguarding Long Island’s communities.
Officers have shot innocent people, falsified official reports, manipulated DWI arrests to increase overtime pay and lied to district attorneys and investigators.
Occasionally an officer’s poor behavior bursts into public view, embarrassing the majority of officers who spend their careers serving honorably.
But far more often, serious misconduct stays hidden behind state Civil Rights Law 50-a, which makes any record used to judge an officer’s performance confidential. As a result, Long Island’s taxpayers are left to trust elected and police officials to provide proper oversight of some of the nation’s best-paid law enforcement officers.
That trust is unwarranted, a Newsday investigation has found.
Despite a series of high-profile misconduct cases in recent years, Long Island’s police face some of the weakest oversight in the country. New York is one of only six states that does not license police, and state lawmakers have ignored opportunities to pass tougher oversight laws.
Efforts to create independent civilian review boards — such as the one in New York City — have stalled on Long Island, and local lawmakers explicitly responsible for overseeing public safety have not publicly discussed police misconduct in years.
In an effort to penetrate the secrecy of the 50-a law and examine Long Island’s system for handling and responding to police misconduct cases, Newsday reviewed more than 900 lawsuits, 7,000 pages of county legislative transcripts, union agreements and 1,700 proposed state laws.
Newsday also obtained from the Suffolk Police Department 300 pages of records from misconduct cases from 2008 through 2013. The records — known within the department as teletypes — show the departmental charges against individual officers, whose names were redacted before Newsday received the records. The department documents also include a summary of the misconduct committed and, in most cases, the discipline administered.
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