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August 11, 2010

Confidentiality of police records

Confidentiality of police records
Baez v City of New York, NYS Supreme Court, [Not selected for publication in the Official Reports]

A number of law enforcement agencies have procedures similar to those of the New York City Police Department Patrol Guide Section 118-9, which compels an officer to participate in an interview process coupled with the promise that the statement provided by the officer will not be used against him or her in any criminal proceeding. Characterized as GO-15 or IAD interviews, these NYPD statements are typically comprehensive and provide a substitute for a deposition.

In the Baez case New York State Supreme Court Justice McKeon set out the guidelines usually followed with respect to the release of such statements to the press and, or, to the public.

Justice McKeon said that the release of such records is governed by three statutes: Public Officers Law Section 87 (Freedom of Information Law or FOIL); Civil Rights Law Section 50-a (Right of Privacy for personnel records of police officers and others); and CPLR Section 3101 (Scope of Disclosure).

As to FOIL, Justice McKeon held that Section 87 allows access by any member of the public to governmental agency records, unless they are specifically exempted from disclosure by statute or constitute inter-agency or intra-agency materials, which are not inter alia final agency policy or determinations. He concluded that these types of records fall within that exemption from disclosure to the public under FOIL as predecisional interagency materials.

Civil Rights Law Section 50-a, said Justice McKeon, declares personnel records of police officers to be confidential material, not subject to disclosure without the express written consent of the officer or as mandated by lawful court order. It was noted, however, that the use of such records by a governmental entity, such as releasing summary of internal investigation of instances of police misconduct, is not precluded by Section 50-a because that use is unrelated to the purpose of the statute.

Justice McKeon next considered CPLR Section 3101, the discovery statute. This section, it was noted, provides that “[u]pon objection by a person entitled to assert the privilege, privileged matter shall not be obtainable.” The Court concluded that based on the protections provided by these statutes, “GO-15 statements and IAD records are considered confidential per statute unless they are released through consent or by lawful court order.” Justice McKeon also observed that “confidential” in Civil Rights Law Section 50-a is analogous to “privileged” within the meaning of CPLR Section 3101.

Justice McKeon also ruled that such statements are exempted from disclosure to the general public under the Freedom of Information Law, Public Officers’ Law Section 87.

The full opinion is available at:
http://nypublicpersonnellawarchives.blogspot.com/

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