The [De]Value of Unsubstantiated Allegations Against the Police

December 1, 2023

In 2020, New York State repealed Civil Rights Law section 50-a, which formerly prohibited disclosure of police and other civil servant disciplinary records.  Shortly after this repeal, New York City’s Civilian Complaint Review Board (CCRB) released thousands of records of civilian complaints for all current and former New York City police officers that dated back to 2000.  The release included substantiated findings of wrongdoing and unsubstantiated records in which no wrongdoing was found.  Records continue to be released in this manner following the CCRB’s investigations.

Under New York City’s Administrative Procedure Act, agencies like the CCRB must follow certain procedures before taking actions that implicate citizens’ rights.  Under New York State’s Freedom of Information Law, disciplinary records of municipal and state employees are subject to certain disclosure protections.  This Note examines whether releasing unsubstantiated records complies with these two laws.

Litigation surrounding the repeal of section 50-a and the release of civilian complaint records has led to differing treatment of police records across New York State.  This Note argues that the CCRB’s release of records did not comply with the city’s Administrative Procedure Act and that unsubstantiated records naming officers should not have been released pursuant to the Freedom of Information Law.  This Note posits that the CCRB should correct the procedural deficiencies created by ignoring the former when it released the records and offers concrete solutions to ensure that further releases of records comply with the latter.  Finally, this Note addresses some policy concerns regarding civilian complaints against the police.

December 2023

No. 3