Police Departments Across New York Are Being Run Like Secret Clubs

Do you have any idea how your local police department works? Do they have policies or practices that might affect how they interact with you or your family or the people you care about?

It may be harder than you think to find out.

Over the past two years, the NYCLU sent Freedom of Information Law (FOIL) requests to 23 police departments around the state seeking information about their policies and practices. We asked for basic information about issues that are important to people who come into contact with police—and to everyone—including the use of force, stops and detentions, complaints about alleged misconduct, racial profiling, and the use of surveillance technologies.

We got back, well, a lot of red tape.

Under FOIL, departments are required to respond quickly and comprehensively to requests for information, and all records are supposed to be open to the public unless they fall under a very narrow set of exemptions — like records that would expose confidential personal information or put someone in danger. Instead, departments around the state often reacted with a lack of awareness about their responsibilities, with apologies that they didn’t have the staff resources to answer our emails or with knee-jerk denials that left us scratching our heads. A few were wonderfully helpful, but some were bafflingly secretive.

If you don’t have information about how your police department works, then there’s no way to figure out if it works well.

In Ramapo, for example, the department initially blacked out all the sections of its deadly force and firearms policies that described when officers should use deadly force against people. When we asked why these sections were redacted, they told us that, for safety reasons, they didn’t want people who encounter the police to know how to “tailor their behavior” in response to the policy. While such a concern might make sense in the context of other police tactics—you wouldn’t want a reckless driver to know where the police place every speed trap —here the implication was that they didn’t want people to tailor their behavior to avoid being killed or shot by the police.

This was worrisome, to say the least.

Providing the public with clear information on how to behave in a way that should not lead to officer use of deadly force is something that can only increase — not decrease — safety for all involved. We eventually sued and got unredacted versions of that policy when Ramapo’s lawyers agreed with us on that point.

It’s pretty obvious why police complying with FOIL is so important: If you don’t have information about how your police department works, then there’s no way to figure out if it works well. Communities cannot analyze records that aren’t released, and they can’t propose policy reforms when they can’t access the policies that govern how they are policed. That’s why we FOILed so many departments — in urban, suburban and rural communities — and documented our findings regarding the transparency and accountability of police departments statewide in our recently released report, “Taking Cover.” We also offer a number of recommendations for how to fix what is clearly a very broken FOIL system.

If you’re interested in how your police department stacks up, you can read about all of the missed deadlines, over-redacted documents, and wildly variable record keeping here.

The next step, of course, is to turn over all of the information that we gathered—hundreds of thousands of pages so far — to you, so that the public can analyze the policies and practices of New York’s police departments when they’re held up against model policies and best practices from experts around the country.

In other words: stay tuned.

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I need to understand how it has become acceptable for law enforcement to use deceiving practices involving threats of public humiliation, threats of destroying someone's future and in general extreme forms on intimidation on children to get ad admission of guilt. This happened in our home as part of a preplanned operation which separated the parents from the child so nobody could tell what was happening. They came rushing in with full armor and weapons, came to me and proceeded to tell me that I knew why they came and that I had two choices: admit to it and they'll help me out, don't admit and they will "take me out in cuffs in front of all my neighbors to see". Make your decision right now.
All of this without any clue at all what they were there for or what they were talking about. Turns out, that part doesn't matter. All that is needed is their decision that you are responsible. That's enough to start the process that puts you in a place where you now how to fight for your life.
Since they didn't know exactly who was responsible, by default, the adult male gets the full treatment and will be hauled off. To cover all bases, they also screamed in the face of one of my children telling him that they "knew" he did it and had evidence to prove it. How is that possible if I am also being told that they knew I did it?
You would think our house was the center of operations of a major crime ring given the team of armed invaders into a quiet suburban home.
How can it be that this is what is acceptable practice? What happened to actual detective/investigative work? Is it all now just brute force and through the creation of horror and mass confusion the way to get the prize and bring someone in (doesn't matter who)? Does anyone care how they execute these warrants to invade a family's home and remove any sense of safety and security? Do judges know what happens when they sign that sheet of paper?
Now, I find myself wondering how to find out if procedure was followed. The more read about it, the more hopeless it looks. It appears I may actually may be putting myself at risk by even trying.
This isn't what I was taught growing up. I thought we had the best legal system in the world and that our police officers were heroes. Seeing first hand how they operate is shocking. There isn't much difference between a home invasion performed by criminals and one performed by law enforcement. It is done with abusive threats backed with no evidence, use of intimidation and confusion to force someone (anyone) to give them what the want. They leave behind a devastated family who will never be the same and never feel safe from it happening again on any given day. Your front door may as well be left wide open. There is no safe place when they have decided you are a target. Again, no evidence to a person required - just a signature to go into the home. It's up to you to prove in court that they went after the wrong person and good luck with that.


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