SYRACUSE, N.Y. (WSYR-TV) — The New York Civil Liberties Union (NYCLU) has filed a lawsuit against the City of Syracuse and its police department, saying it had been denied access to certain police misconduct complaints despite state law.

NYCLU says it had a request into the police department in September seeking records and Syracuse Police denied those requests. The requests were for police misconduct complaints that both did and did not result in disciplinary action for the officer.

According to the lawsuit, the city later denied NYCLU’s appeal.

A spokesperson for the union says, “The Syracuse Police Department cannot ignore the fact that 50-a was repealed and police transparency is essential to police accountability.

Section 50a of the Civil Rights Law, a provision that had been used to shield police disciplinary records from public view for decades, was repealed by Governor Andrew Cuomo and state lawmakers last year.

The union says the requests were part of a statewide campaign in which they filed state FOIL (Freedom of Information Law request) with 12 police departments in New York.

Neither Syracuse Police nor the city have responded to the suit.

In order to receive funding, Governor Andrew Cuomo has directed police agencies across the state to redraft its policies.

Syracuse Police have already submitted their reform plan to the state, in which they say that by this time next year, the City of Syracuse will create and publish an annual report on the use of force.

View NYCLU’s full release below:

SYRACUSE – Today the New York Civil Liberties Union, with pro bono counsel from Latham & Watkins LLP, filed a lawsuit against the Syracuse Police Department for unlawfully denying the NYCLU’s requests for the full slate of records related to police misconduct authorized to be disclosed following the repeal of 50-a.

NYCLU submitted a FOIL request seeking public records specifically authorized to be disclosed under state FOIL after the repeal of 50-a, a statute of the state civil rights code that had been used for years to bar the disclosure of police misconduct. Specifically, that request sought records of both police misconduct complaints that did result in officer discipline and complaints that did not. The Syracuse Police Department has denied requests for all records of police misconduct complaints that did not ultimately result in discipline—likely the vast majority of such records—and it along with the City of Syracuse denied the NYCLU’s administrative appeal filed in December 2020.

“The Syracuse Police Department cannot ignore the fact that 50-a was repealed, and police transparency is essential to police accountability,” said Bobby Hodgson, senior staff attorney at the NYCLU. “New Yorkers stood up, spoke out, and demanded change: the law is no longer on the side of police secrecy. Being able to compare when the SPD did impose discipline as the result of a complaint against when and why it did not is vital to vindicating the public’s right to complete information about the police misconduct that takes place in their communities.”

The proceeding is part of a statewide police transparency campaign in which the NYCLU and pro bono counsel filed state FOIL requests with twelve police departments statewide and the New York State Department of Corrections and Community Supervision. In December 2020, the NYCLU filed a similar lawsuit against the Rochester Police Department for withholding public records subject to state FOIL. Later that month, following NYCLU intervention, a State Supreme Court Judge in Schenectady reaffirmed that the repeal of 50-a means that all complaints—not just complaints that result in discipline—must be produced under FOIL, and that FOIL’s privacy exemption cannot re-establish 50-a under another name.

“No police department can shirk their responsibility to be transparent any longer,” said Lisa Laplace, senior staff attorney and counsel for pro bono at the NYCLU. “In partnership with our pro-bono counsel, we will take action to ensure 50-a is repealed in theory and practice across New York State by obtaining full documentation of misconduct long withheld from the public.”

 You can find case materials here: https://www.nyclu.org/en/cases/nyclu-v-city-syracuse-and-syracuse-police-department