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NYCLU suing over police records

Lawsuit claims city never responded

The New York Civil Liberties Union in partnership with the law firm of Shearman & Sterling LLP filed an Article 78 proceeding against the Rochester Police Department for constructively denying the NYCLU’s requests for records related to police misconduct under the state Freedom of Information Law (FOIL).

In September 2020, the NYCLU submitted a FOIL request seeking records specifically authorized to be disclosed under the state FOIL after the repeal of 50-a, a statute of the state civil rights code that had been used for years to bar the disclosure of police misconduct.

The Police Department has not responded to the request, which sought documents related to disciplinary records, use of force, stops, civilian complaints, policies, investigative reports, diversity, trainings, and collective bargaining agreements, according to a NYCLU news release.

The Police Department has not provided any documents, claimed any exemptions, or responded to the administrative appeal filed in November 2020. Under the state FOIL, administrative appeals require a response within 10 business days.

The Rochester case, which was filed in state Supreme Court, is part of a statewide campaign in which the NYCLU, with pro bono counsel from several law firms, filed state FOIL requests with 12 police departments statewide and the New York State Department of Corrections and Community Supervision requesting data about police and correctional officer misconduct “with particular attention to the appearance of patterns of race-based policing,” according to the NYCLU.

In response to a request for comment on the case, Rochester Communications Director Justin Roj has issued the following statement: “As we previously announced, the City is creating an online database of all disciplinary records for current Rochester Police Department officers in compliance with 50-a. We are in the final stages of development for this important tool, and will make it available later this month – making Rochester one of the first cities in State to do so. The requestor is well aware of our efforts.”