The New York Civil Liberties Union (NYCLU) found state police engaged in 5,554 reported use-of-force instances between 2000–2020 through a recently published report stemming from public records obtained following a 2022 Freedom of Information Act (FOIL) lawsuit. Nearly a third of incidents occurred during traffic stops.
According to NYCLU legal fellow Ify Chikezie, the exact race of New Yorkers on the receiving end of these incidents isn’t known, but history clearly points to Black and brown people.
“This is something you know about policing; this is something that we see anecdotally,” said Chikezie. “Though this is not a data point we have, from what we know, we have every reason to believe that that would be borne out in the data if we were able to see it.”
New York State Police (NYSP) Acting Superintendent Steven Nigrelli responded to the findings and lawsuit by email.
“The New York State Police values transparency,” said Nigrelli. “We follow the law in all respects, including in the appropriate release of publicly available agency records. Pursuant to a Freedom of Information Law request, the NYSP produced to NYCLU numerous records relating to personnel and disciplinary matters. NYCLU published its interpretation of the records it received from the NYSP.”
The FOIL request was initially filed after ex-Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s 2020 repeal of New York State Civil Rights Law § 50-a, which allowed law enforcement to reject requests for “personnel records used to evaluate performance toward continued employment or promotion.” The act was intended to restrict criminal defense lawyers from employing them against police witnesses, but ballooned into blanket authority to withhold many records involving police misconduct by the time it was annulled.
The NYCLU filed a subsequent lawsuit against the state police last year after the request was rejected after 16 months, alleged the lawsuit filing.
“The long-standing secrecy was really hurting police accountability, public trust, [and] understanding of what accountability processes exist and how they work,” said NYCLU supervising attorney Bobby Hodgson. “For the public to start to have an informed conversation about that and what police accountability looks like, we have to be able to see and talk about disciplinary records, how misconduct investigations happen, how complaints are dealt with, and what sort of discipline gets imposed.”
Along with use-of-force, officer misconduct and discipline records between 2000 and 2020 were also disclosed. Yet the NYCLU says the officers in unfounded misconduct allegations are not named and state police complaints are investigated internally through the department’s Professional Standards Bureau; Chikezie argues that this is a transparency concern and was an issue named in the lawsuit. The unnamed officers are referred to as “NA” in the data set.
All in all, around 7,500 of the roughly 18,000 use-of-force complaints were determined to be founded; 489 complaints referenced racial discrimination but only around 5% were founded.
To see use-of-force data, go to https://www.nyclu.org/en/new-york-state-police-use-force-data.
Tandy Lau is a Report for America corps member and writes about public safety for the Amsterdam News. Your donation to match our RFA grant helps keep him writing stories like this one; please consider making a tax-deductible gift of any amount today by visiting https://bit.ly/amnews1.