Free Minds & Free Markets

BuzzFeed Is Publishing NYPD Disciplinary Records, and That's a Very Big Deal

Two of America's biggest states, New York and California, keep police misconduct info secret. That's starting to change.

NYPD Paul Martinka / Splash News/NewscomIt's easy to feel cynical after glancing at just a couple of the 1,800 New York Police Department (NYPD) disciplinary records published today by BuzzFeed. It's no fun to see cops losing a few vacation days for behavior that would have gotten you fired from your own job. But let's be happy that this database was published in the first place.

The BuzzFeed files feature NYPD misconduct records from the years 2011 to 2015. The media outlet received the records through an anonymous source, and it worked painstakingly to verify their authenticity before publishing them.

The publication of the database is itself a follow-up to a heavily investigated March article about 319 NYPD officers who had committed offenses serious enough to justify firing but were still on the job. Subsequent to BuzzFeed's story, the city's police commissioner said he would start releasing disciplinary reports with the officers' names redacted, but the Police Benevolent Association of New York went to court to block even that much transparency.

New York's state laws make it next to impossible to get access to records of police misconduct. The obvious result is that people who get charged with crimes do not know if their officer has a history of bad behavior that they could use as evidence for their own defense. BuzzFeed points out a flip side to the problem as well: Police officers don't know how their peers get disciplined, so the secrecy helps shield both favoritism and overly harsh punishment of people who anger their managers.

In this database, the overpunishment is outnumbered by what appear to be slaps on the wrist. BuzzFeed notes that three officers each lost five vacation days as punishment for using excessive force against students. Take note of that if you think we need more cops in schools. BuzzFeed found more than 100 officers who were docked vacation time rather than getting fired for lying about job matters. Some officers were simply reprimanded and forced to pay back thousands of dollars in unearned overtime.

A week before BuzzFeed published the database, the Police Benevolent Association's lawyers sent the website a threatening letter trying to stop them, complaining that "police officers have recently been intentionally targeted for violence, including murder, for nothing more than being police officers." The letter insists that the perpetrators of anti-police violence are inspired by media sensationalism and that BuzzFeed's reporting will put all 24,000 NYPD officers at risk, not just the 1,800 listed in the database.

New York Mayor Bill de Blasio says he wants to see reforms to New York's law shielding police disciplinary records. We're seeing a similar push in California, where police misconduct records are similarly concealed from the public. After a controversial police shooting in Sacramento, lawmakers are pushing legislation that would open police records in cases where an officer used a gun or force, in cases where an officer's use of force led to death or serious injury, and in cases where the officer is found guilty of sexual assault or dishonesty on the job.

The California bill, SB 1421, is currently in the State Senate's Public Safety Committee, which is scheduled to consider it Tuesday.

Photo Credit: Paul Martinka / Splash News/Newscom

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  • Diane Reynolds (Paul.)||

    Props to BuzzFeed on this. I've been duly impressed with some of BuzzFeed's news coverage and I've change my opinion on them.

  • colorblindkid||

    Every once in awhile they have a real journalist do something good, but it isn't enough to overcome the garbage, and their blatant slant often blinds people to real journalism, like whenever somebody at The Daily Caller does some real investigating. Which is why you should always judge each individual story and investigation on its own merit, and not where it came from.

  • TheZeitgeist||

    A good metric of a story's veracity is how unacknowledged and/or memory-holed said story gets in the diametrically opposed press.

    For instance, if DailyCaller reports that UFO's piloted by Elvis are over Maryland, and the NY Times is dead-silent about it (or puts story under regional high school curling scores), there's probably UFO's piloted by Elvis over Maryland.

  • Chipper Morning Baculum||


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  • Citizen X - #6||

    That's a... novel theory.

  • BestUsedCarSales||

    I miss the Weekly World News

  • BambiB||

    Even a broken clock is right twice a day (or such was the case in analog times anyway).

  • Diane Reynolds (Paul.)||

    for nothing more than being police officers."

    Lately, that seems to be the issue. Perhaps they could start being a little more than "just police officers".

  • BYODB||

    Or maybe, just maybe, they should think about what it is that police officers are. The government tells us the police are there to help, but in reality the police are there to raise revenue.

    It seems that the state thinks we can't tell the difference, but I suspect there would be a lot less violence if police were something other than glorified tax collectors.

  • sarcasmic||

    We are told that cops prevent crime, or at least investigate it. However if you have ever been a victim of a crime you know that the cops could care less. They don't do a damn thing. After a while when people ask cops for help and are treated as criminals, meanwhile being milked for cash with traffic tickets and such, they understand that cops help no one but each other. And then the cops have no fucking clue as to why they are hated. No clue.

  • BYODB||

    However if you have ever been a victim of a crime you know that the cops could care less

    That is how I discovered it, actually. Police have very little relation to crime prevention. I wouldn't necessarily say that cops don't care but in reality there isn't much they can do after the fact and there isn't a realistic way for them to be there before the fact.

    Hence, I suppose, their general boredom and the requirement for an officer of the law to have a lower than average IQ to be considered for the job. I don't say this sarcastically, this is literally what Police departments encourage. Dumb officers that write tickets for petty rule violations.

    Now, if you remove the petty rule violations being punished with jail time for those who can't afford the bribe I suspect you'd really do something about the violence.

  • afk05||

    I had a car break down in a bad location late at night, and had a group of guys walking past my car multiple times. I knew the area and that there was a police station right down the block, so I called and asked for someone on patrol to just drive down the block on the way back to the station while I waited for the tow truck, which took it's time late at night in a seedy area. The response from the station I called? "Are you being attacked right now? We cannot come or ask anyone on patrol to even drive by an area unless a crime is in progress or has already been committed."

    Clearly, they do not have any concern for crime prevention. There have been multiple Supreme Court cases in which the ruling is that police have no duty to protect the general public. Warren vs DC is the most famous case, but there have been others.

    The police work for the government to control the working and middle class.

  • cravinbob||

    Police enforce laws only and usually the easiest ones to enforce involves a traffic stop. They protect the general public in that manner- such as getting a DUI off the road using illegal checkpoints. They have no duty to protect a citizen but will respond to some calls quickly and others...maybe, depends on who you are.

    If you keep a firearm in your vehicle then you felt more secure but either way you are right to call the dispatcher so that there is record of your situation. If you had to defend yourself then police and the DA would have to admit they ignored your request.

    Street gangs start out as residents that protect the 'hood and devolve when leaders begin using the members to do crimes. I have heard more than on police officer say he was in the biggest gang and they had radios indicating who it is they protect-themselves.

  • colorblindkid||

    But what will Buzzfeed's narrative be when these disciplined officers wind up being disproportionately black? Narative conundrum!
    This is great news, though. The lack of transparency of police records is a fucking atrocity.

  • Hugh Akston||

    "police officers have recently been intentionally targeted for violence, including murder, for nothing more than being police officers."

    It's got to suck being targeted for violence and murder based on nothing more than what you look like.

  • colorblindkid||

    But there is no evidence that is happening to anybody outside of extraordinarily rare events in 2018. Not a single person in America has any statistically logical reason to fear being murdered because of who they are. Not cops. Not black people. Not Muslims. Not white people.

  • sarcasmic||

    It's got to suck being targeted for violence and murder based on nothing more than what you look like choosing a profession where you are expected to commit assault and murder without conscience.

  • colorblindkid||

    This logic also works with religious hate crimes, though. Unlike race, gender, and sexuality, you choose your religion. It is no different than your profession or your political affiliation. If you include religion in hate crime laws, you must include the others, which is why all hate crime laws need to go.

  • sarcasmic||

    I don't have faith, but from what I have observed it isn't as easy to jump from religion to religion as it is to jump from career to career.

  • colorblindkid||

    It's actually easier. You don't even need to apply or sign up. You just get to say what religion you are.

  • sarcasmic||

    Saying and believing are not the same. For honest people anyway.

  • Citizen X - #6||

    Yeah, that's not how religious belief works. There are a lot of deep-seated psychological factors at play.

  • colorblindkid||

    But when it comes to the law, those things are irrelevant. If a guy says he's a Muslim and he is attacked because of it, it doesn't matter if he's actually a practicing Muslim. It is a choice, like any other. If religion is included in hate crime laws, so should political affiliation, which is essentially identical to religion.

  • TLBD||

    I bet you think being gay is a choice too.

  • cravinbob||

    only in prison...

  • Citizen X - #6||

    The letter insists that the perpetrators of anti-police violence are inspired by media sensationalism and that BuzzFeed's reporting will put all 24,000 NYPD officers at risk

    Reporting basic facts is "media sensationalism" now, huh.

  • Fist of Etiquette||

    Take note of that if you think we need more cops in schools.

    I think we can all agree that more resource officers in schools will help police the police, as they will keep each other in check.

  • Fist of Etiquette||

    ...BuzzFeed's reporting will put all 24,000 NYPD officers at risk, not just the 1,800 listed in the database.

    What is that? 7.5%? That's not bad.

  • ||

    a few

  • Diane Reynolds (Paul.)||

    When the Union doesn't want you to publish something, you know it's gonna be bad.

  • Benitacanova||

    In a word, unions.

  • Scarecrow Repair & Chippering||

    police officers have recently been intentionally targeted for violence, including murder, for nothing more than being police officers.

    Let's try that again, shall we?

    pedophiles have recently been intentionally targeted for violence, including murder, for nothing more than being pedophiles.
    Nazi officers have recently [1945/6] been intentionally targeted for violence, including murder, for nothing more than being Nazi officers.
    male students have recently been intentionally targeted for revenge, including expulsion, for nothing more than being male.
  • BestUsedCarSales||

    It's barely true even.

  • Juice||

    That last one doesn't belong.

  • Scarecrow Repair & Chippering||

    Yes, I know, but I was on a roll. And in a larger sense, they do sort of belong. This whole idea of judging potential crime before the fact instead of actual harm after the fact really bothers me. I include threats as actual harm, with the definition being "imminently unavoidable harm", as in if you don't act *right* *now*, you will be harmed. Not threat as in "he said hateful things", "he sent me nasty mail".

    Trying to blame all these counselors, shrinks, teachers, principles, and assorted bureaucrats is pointless unless you can show that the threats they heard were so unusual as to be rock solid. What I would do is put back the personal responsibility by saying if you respond to a threat and it turns out to have not been a threat, then your actions are your responsibility. Think someone picked your pocket? Grab them -- and if you are wrong, then you have assaulted them. Shoot somebody who you think is aiming a gun at you, and it turns out he wasn't even pretending it? Assault, possibly manslaughter, probably not murder.

    How you'd prove someone was wrong is entirely up to a jury. There is no other way to deal with such gray areas.

  • sarcasmic||

    How many cops have been killed in this so-called war on cops? Seriously. I can think of maybe a half a dozen. Compared to the number of innocents who have been killed by cops in the war on peasants, it's nothing.

  • Verbum Vincet||

    This year, about 377 citizens have been killed by police, thus far. Last year, it was 1,194 and in 2016 it was 1,171. As for the police, around 39 have died this year, but only 17-22 of them were intentional homicides. Last year, around 52 cops died by shooting or vehicular assault, out of 135 total death. Depending on year, cops die accidentally about 2-3 times more often than at the hands of alleged criminals. The puppycide numbers I can't access because "my connection is not secure." Thinly-veiled censorship?

  • Citizen X - #6||

    Your connection is not secure enough to properly convey a nut-punch of that magnitude.

  • PaulTheBeav||

    Best thing Buzzfeed has ever done. The police are public servants and we deserve to know how our employees are failing us.

  • Jujucat||

    Perfectly said.

  • afk05||

    They are not public servants. They are the army for the oligarchs.

  • MatthewSlyfield||

    " and that BuzzFeed's reporting will put all 24,000 NYPD officers at risk, not just the 1,800 listed in the database."

    No, to the extent that the 22,200 NYPD officers not on the list have been put at risk, they were put at risk by the 1,800 officers that are on the list, not by BuzzFeed's reporting.

  • Malvolio||

    > BuzzFeed's reporting will put all 24,000 NYPD officers at risk, not just the 1,800 listed in the database.

    Is the implication that if people knew how bad cops were, we would naturally go out and kill them?

  • TLBD||

    While I'm all for police transparency, with Buzzfeed's history, I think this is quite possibly part of the rumored extortion to keep Weiner's laptop under wraps.

  • Skyhawk||

    Aside from legitimate national security matters, every single function of government and every single government employee record and salary should be completely transparent.

  • crufus||

    The NYPD could get revenge by publishing a list of all Buzzfeed employees who have been investigated for shootings, excessive use of force, beatings, false arrests, and civil rights violations.

  • SimonP||

    Non-New Yorkers often have a misperception about our "socialist utopia," and stories like this help to puncture that illusion. In fact, what we have is a vibrant economic center that is being constantly tapped by upstate (Republican) politicians, with the complicity of suburban (Democratic) politicians, for tax revenue to pay for schools, highways, and Medicaid. The (Trump-voting) NYPD operates with nigh-impunity within the city, and neither our feckless mayor nor the corrupt city council can or wants to do anything about it. They engage in blatant insubordination at even the slightest attempt to subject them to civilian oversight. The state government strips away home-rule and then dangles slices of power back to the city in exchange for more cash flowing upstate. The subway system is treated as a massive slush fund to fill budget holes in the governor's budget and subsidize commuter rail to suburban districts not subject to city taxes.

    In short, we live in a mafia state, and both Republican and Democratic politicians are complicit in this constant buck-shifting and obscure accounting we resignedly think of as our "government." We have so many police officers, acting with such impunity, that I'd be inclined to describe us as being in a "police state," as well, though as a matter of fact it's not like our NYPD does all that much work. So that's something, at least.

  • Hank Phillips||

    During the economic collapse attending the Hoover Administration, cops, prosecutors, judges and detectives, clerks and bankers, bank examiners and corporations were discovered shooting up and/or selling confiscated dope, using blackmail, confiscation, bribery and murder in prohibition-enforcement-related scams in such numbers that it took federal tax agents to herd enough of them into District courts to completely collapse the economy (via liquidation & hoarding) and pave the way for repeal of the Prohibition Amendment. New York was especially rife with such cases.

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