The New York Police Department (NYPD) has been sued by The New York Times (NYT) for routinely violating Freedom of Information Law (FOIL) that requires government agencies to provide information to the press and the public.
The NYT said in a report published Dec. 21 that it has filed a lawsuit in the State Supreme Court in Manhattan. The lawsuit claims NYT reporters have made four requests to NYPD this year for information under FOIL. However, in all four instances, NYPD has either delayed in providing the information or has refused to hand over the information.
NYT said the department's handling of the requests reflected a pattern and practice by which the police avoided providing material that the FOIL said must be released.
According to David E. McCraw, a vice president and assistant general counsel of The New York Times Company, though NYPD has performed outstanding service to this city, it is important that the police authorities also meet their duties under the Freedom of Information Law.
People have a right to know what public agencies are doing, and how they are doing it, so that there can be an informed public debate over what policies are pursued and how tax dollars are spent, McCraw said.
McCraw said NYT has noticed over the last two years a growing lack of transparency at the NYPD and, hence, has filed the lawsuit. The lawsuit seeks a judicial order that would require the police to hand over the information sought by NYT and also bar the police department from continuing its pattern and practice of violating FOIL.
The lawsuit claims the police department has no legal basis for withholding the materials sought by the reporters and as a matter of practice fails to meet the deadline imposed by FOIL within which a government agency must furnish information to the public when requested.
Though FOIL requires that the department “make individualized determinations about extensions to those deadlines, based on specific factors, NYPD did not appear to decide requests one by one. Sometimes it sends form letters, the lawsuit has alleged.
And if the NYPD turns down a request and the person, who has made it, files an appeal, the agency is supposed to respond in 10 days. However, the NYPD as a matter of practice does not meet the deadline, the lawsuit claims.
NYT has claimed that of the appeals on the four information requests in the lawsuit, one was decided in 19 business days and another in 18. It never received a determination on its appeal of a third and the fourth has yet to be decided.
The four requests from NYT reporters were for the addresses of New York City residents who had been granted gun permits, for the Police Department’s database on hate crimes, for its database on crime incident reports and for the tracking log on Freedom of Information requests.
Meanwhile, NYPD's chief spokesman Paul J. Browne has claimed that the police department did not violate FOIL as alleged by NYT. These requests are being processed by the NYPD in accordance with controlling law, Browne told NYT.
We disagree with The Times's interpretation of FOIL as contained in the papers we received, he said, adding that the department would not comment further since these issues are now in litigation.