Secret NYPD Doc Teaches Cops To Illegally Loot Sealed Files


New York The police department has trained its officers to break a long-standing law that prohibits police from snooping into the sealed arrest records of millions of innocent people, according to court documents filed in a trial last week .

The news comes amid a class action lawsuit over the police department’s practice of flouting a state law designed to protect people from discrimination, harassment and other legal consequences of past arrests that no longer exist. ‘have not resulted in a conviction. The Bronx Defenders, a public defense organization, have filed a lawsuit against New York City and the NYPD.

Defense attorneys in New York City say they routinely find NYPD printouts of their clients ‘past sealed arrests in prosecutors’ documents, and law enforcement sources often to run away the sealed arrest records of those killed by the police and political enemies to the media. Eric Garner’s escape sealed arrest story after being killed by police in 2014, for example, is now the matter of a judicial inquiry.

Disregard for the law on records leads to the perpetuation of a racist harassment regime in which bad arrests lead to more bad arrests, a “trash-in, trash-out” cycle, said Niji Jain, a lawyer with the impact of the Bronx Defenders. litigation practice and one of the lawyers in the case.

“In poor communities of color, people are overpolished and bad arrests happen for low-level things that ultimately aren’t proven or prosecutors don’t want to prosecute.”

“In poor communities of color, people are overpolished and bad arrests happen for low-level things that ultimately aren’t proven or prosecutors don’t want to prosecute,” Jain said. “If someone gets arrested like this and the NYPD continues to target, monitor and harass that person based on all those bad arrests from before, it doesn’t help. public interest. It’s just re-victimizing that person.

Despite the law, the NYPD still uses sealed arrests to investigate and conduct business, lawyers say, and even uses photographs of sealed arrests in virtual queues to identify suspects. In one movement Filed last week, public defense lawyers included redacted quotes from a training document they say shows the police department is going so far as to train its own officers to access sealed arrest records . The NYPD and the city have staged a legal fight to keep most of the documents secret, out of public view.

The stakes have has only grown since the passage of the privacy law almost 50 years ago. As arrest records have become digitized, and the NYPD’s use of dozens of interconnected databases puts records at the fingertips of every officer with just a few clicks on a smartphone app, the potential for abuse has increased. increased exponentially. The NYPD has admitted that officers have access through at least 14 databases to some 6 million sealed arrests, affecting at least 3.5 million people.

In 1976, when the law was passed, it was hailed by state legislators across the political spectrum as a necessary and belated step to uphold the presumption of innocence. “No individual should suffer negative consequences on the sole basis of a charge, unless the charges ultimately end up in court,” said the then governor. Hugh Carey wrote when he signed the law.

The law still allows law enforcement agencies to access sealed arrest records if they can persuade a court that it is necessary. It also requires police to destroy or return identifying information such as photographs and fingerprints associated with sealed arrests.

The NYPD clearly understood the implications of the law during its review, and the department was one of the few voices to oppose it. “The provision that records would be made available to a law enforcement agency upon request is impractical and unwise,” an NYPD official said. wrote in opposition to the law. “Prompt investigations produce the best results, and requiring the police to be ordered to view files can hamper investigations.”

When the law was first enacted anyway and later extended, the NYPD’s response was to challenge it systematically, class-action lawyers argue. An NYPD spokesperson declined to answer questions or provide information to The Intercept about its training and practices around sealed arrests.

In court, lawyers of the New York City Legal Department, which represents the city and the NYPD, does not deny that they are accessing files that the law says should be sealed. Instead, they argued that the law actually allows police to access sealed files without a court order. Judge Alexander Tisch dismissed these arguments outright in a decision 2019, believing that the NYPD is, in fact, bound by the law and that if the department “seeks sealed information for an investigation, it should apply to the court”.

Even after the judge decides the NYPD is indeed bound by the law, the NYPD continues to violate it, accessing sealed arrest records without a court order, according to public defenders.

In order to put an end to this, lawyers for the group filed a petition last week asking for a preliminary injunction to force the department to comply with the law, telling officers they are not allowed to access arrest records. sealed without a court order. and, significantly, order the ministry to stop making sealed arrest data readily available to officers through the police database network.

The motion also made public the existence of sealed evidence that city attorneys and the NYPD are trying to keep the public a secret.

As part of the discovery of the case, attorneys for the class had asked the NYPD for any material the department uses to train officers on the matter. Lawyers in town initially refused to hand over the training materials, arguing that the training actually amounted to privileged legal communications between agents and their lawyers. The judge in charge of the case concluded that this claim was without merit and forced the NYPD to postpone the training as part of the trial discovery. However, the lawyers in town would only do this under seal, which means that while the lawyers in the class are now able to view the training material, neither their clients nor the general public can.

Class lawyers movement filed last week, while redacting public citations from the training, makes it clear that the trainings contain “inaccurate statements of black letter law”, telling officers they are allowed access to sealed arrests without a court order , in violation of the law.

“We are not allowed at this point to tell you what is in the formations, but I can tell you that the formations give instructions against the law,” said Jain, counsel for the Bronx Defenders. , at The Intercept. “We also know that the NYPD gives officers access to millions of arrest records in the field to which they are not supposed to have access. This systemic violation of rights affects a huge class of over 3.5 million people. And at this time, none of these group members are able to see this training material which instructs officers how to access records which are private records. People have a right to this transparency.

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