It’s “secret” in the sense that it’s not public, but it’s hardly a secret in the sense that everybody involved in criminal law didn’t know about it. Section 50-a of the New York Civil Rights Law expressly says so.
All personnel records used to evaluate performance toward continued employment or promotion, under the control of any police agency…shall be considered confidential and not subject to inspection or review without the express written consent of such police officer, firefighter, firefighter/paramedic, correction officer or peace officer within the department of corrections and community supervision or probation department except as may be mandated by lawful court order.
There are ways to get a specific officer’s personnel records, but there is no means by which to get the personnel records of all cops who have been subject to discipline. Unless, of course, someone leaks them to you.
Secret files obtained by BuzzFeed News reveal that from 2011 to 2015 at least 319 New York Police Department employees who committed offenses serious enough to merit firing were allowed to keep their jobs.
From the BuzzFeed post, the outrage comes from the disposition of these instances of outrageous conduct, ranging from lying to drugs, beatings to sexual abuse. The sort of stuff that we would be put in prison for, but somehow isn’t worthy of discharge if you’re a cop.
In every instance, the police commissioner, who has final authority in disciplinary decisions, assigned these officers to “dismissal probation,” a penalty with few practical consequences. The officer continues to do their job at their usual salary. They may get less overtime and won’t be promoted during that period, which usually lasts a year. When the year is over, so is the probation.
In individual instances, we know that cops who did the dirty didn’t get fired, because they’re still on the job. In the aggregate, however, it was unclear. Until now.
Today many continue to patrol the streets, arrest people, put them in jail, and testify in criminal prosecutions. But the people they arrest have little way to find out about the officer’s record. So they are forced to make life-changing decisions — such as whether to fight their charges in court or take a guilty plea — without knowing, for example, if the officer who arrested them is a convicted liar, information that a jury might find directly relevant.
Of course there is a duty to disclose to the defense that a liar cop is a liar cop, but if they don’t, whether because a prosecutor isn’t aware of a cop’s history or decides to bury it, there’s often no way for the defense to find out. Yet there they are, on the job, busting defendants (in all sense of the word).
It’s hardly a secret that it’s up to the police commissioner to ultimately decide whether to fire a cop, and much as they proclaim their purity in public, few in the trenches are so naive as to believe this sputum. In fairness, the Commish gets feedback about the worthiness of cops from unreliable sources, like commanding officers, and has to face the post hoc arbitrator’s decision, which is notoriously pro-cop and means an award of reinstatement plus back pay. The PBA has its methods, you know.
While it gives a false impression to call these records “secret,” as the law requires them to be confidential and it’s not as if they are public records that the cops are hiding in the basement, it looks like BuzzFeed plans to put them online so that we can find out if a cop on a case is a bad dude, and perhaps drop some shame on the cops for keeping officers on the job who they insist would never be allowed to wear a badge. This could be huge.