Legal Aid Society Launches Database to Improve Police Misconduct Transparency, Reported by Patch

Posted on March 8, 2019

Investigate Cop Misconduct In Your Neighborhood With New Database

Originally Published in Patch on March 6, 2019
Written by Noah Manskar

A strong secrecy law keeps many New York police misconduct records essentially under lock and key. But a new online tool puts those that are available in one place to help New Yorkers hold cops accountable. On Wednesday, the Legal Aid Society launched CAPStat, a database of federal police misconduct lawsuits and other information. Records are tough to access because of section 50-a of the state civil rights law, which says all police personnel records are to be kept confidential. The courts’ interpretation of the law has expanded so much over the years that police departments can conceal any information “that could conceivably reflect upon a future decision to promote or retain an officer,” according to the state’s Committee on Open Government.

But lawsuits aren’t behind that veil. CAPStat has information on more than 2,000 suits brought against the NYPD between January 2015 and June 2018. The database can serve as a tool for officials to spot patterns of misconduct and discipline cops who are repeat offenders, Legal Aid says. It will also help the general public “hold the NYPD accountable” for such patterns, said Cynthia Conti-Cook, a staff attorney with the Special Litigation Unit in Legal Aid’s Criminal Practice. “With today’s launch, we join a national movement including fellow defenders, advocates, and community members to shed much needed daylight on police departments and their actions,” Conti-Cook said.

The database shows details of individual cases such as the type of misconduct alleged, where they occurred and their outcomes. The CAPStat acknowledges that the data on which it relies do not give a complete picture of police misconduct in the city. But some lawmakers nonetheless praised the database as an important tool in the fight for criminal justice reform. “Two barriers that we face toward real policing reform are a lack of transparency and accountability — and accountability requires transparency,” Public Advocate-Elect Jumaane Williams said in a statement. “I believe that the CAPStat database will be a vital tool for the public as well as for the NYPD and advocates to review, to find and address systemic failures.”

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