New York City

NYPD Sued for withholding public records

April 23, 2013 By Charisma L. Miller, Esq. Brooklyn Daily Eagle
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A news website is suing the New York Police Department for allegedly denying them access to parade permit and sound-device applications, as allowed under the Freedom of Information Law.

Remapping Debate is a not-for-profit news website that analyzes data as related to public policy matters that it discerns are too rarely addressed. In May 2012, Remapping Debate submitted a FOIL request to the NYPD for a sample of data for permits needed for protest demonstrations and sound amplifying equipment, presumably used during a protest.  

The purpose of the request was for the news website to “analyze for the public the extent to which the Police Department burdens citizens in their exercise of their First Amendment rights and the extent to which Police Department polices have changed over time.” The denial of the FOIL request appears to emphasize the very objective of the request.

The Freedom of Information Law is a New York state law that mimics the federal Freedom of Information Act, which grants a right of access to records held by state agencies, public corporations and authorities, as well as any other governmental entities performing a governmental function for the state. When submitting a FOIL request, it is prudent that the request be reasonable and detailed. Remapping Debate contends that its requests were just that.

Remapping Debate asserts that it submitted a “time-limited” request for data, asking only for records from “two fiscal years in the Vietnam War era, one fiscal year during the administration of former Mayor David Dinkins, the fiscal year … that encompassed the 2004 Republican National Convention and the period beginning July 1, 2011.”

The sample years requested reflects moments of intense protest throughout New York City: The heated Vietnam War protests, the Crown Heights riots during Mayor Dinkins’ reign, the protests against the Republican Convention, the George Bush administration, and the Iraq war in 2004, as well as the Occupy Wall Street protests, which began in September 2011.

According to the suit, the NYPD, using reasons that “the records are located in several different locations and are difficult to search or locate” and “the request is extremely voluminous and/or complex,” has failed to “produce a single record” and has constructively denied its requests.

“For nearly 11 months, the NYPD’s central command has claimed that it has to obtain traditional police records — parade and sound-amplification permits — from some ‘other unit,” said Remapping Debate’s attorney Andrew G. Celli, Jr. and Eisha Jain of the law firm Emery Celli Brinckerhoff & Abady LLP. “As we all know, this department — applauded for its efficiency in fighting crime — has the capacity and the personnel to respond to these requests in a timely way.

“What it lacks, apparently, is the will. Fortunately, when bureaucracies flout the law and ignore the legitimate requests of the citizenry, courts are there to hold them to account.”

“The documents sought are important to facilitating public understanding of how New York City has treated those seeking to exercise their First Amendment rights,” noted Christopher Dunn, the associate director of the New York Civil Liberties Union.  “Unfortunately, Remapping Debate’s experience of having received no documents more than 10 months after the requests were made is all too typical of how the NYPD violates its Freedom of Information Law obligations.”

Remapping Debate is asking the court to demand the NYPD to comply with its FOIL requests and reasonable attorney’s fees.

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