Police departments in Long Island–and other major departments throughout the state–are falling short of transparency standards designed to keep police accountable, as shown by a preliminary report from the New York Civil Liberties Union (NYCLU).
Irma Solis, NYCLU Suffolk County Chapter Director, said in a statement that transparency is “key to understanding how our law enforcement is spending its time and resources.”
“Without access to this information, communities are unable to assess whether local police are supporting or targeting immigrant communities,” Solis said.
In recent years, immigration advocates have been pressing Long Island’s police departments for answers on questions of how they interact with federal immigration agencies, as well as policy and procedures regarding inquiring about immigration status. Their difficulties in securing concrete information are a testament to the atmosphere of evasion the report found.
The report found that both Nassau and Suffolk police did not respond to first-time FOIL requests in the time legally required. FOIL requests must be responded to within five days by either approving the request and providing a timeframe on delivery, or police can deny the request with a written justification.
The findings are based on Freedom of Information Law (FOIL) requests made to 23 police department throughout the state in 2015 requesting information on the use of force, stops and detentions, complaints about misconduct, racial profiling, and the use of surveillance equipment.
Over the two years since, NYCLU found that police ignored mandated FOIL deadlines, excessively redacted documents, maintained inadequate staff to facilitate disclosure, and had subpar record-keeping practices.
Out of the 23 departments in New York State, 20 did not respond within the time required. NYCLU had to file administrative appeals in 22 requests, as well as lawsuits with the Buffalo and Ramapo police.
For example, the report found that Hempstead police do not have a system for finding records and do not keep copies of policies in a single location. With nearly 120 officers and 50 civilian personnel, Hempstead has only one officer in place to respond to FOILs who also manages payroll, new recruits, and coordinating the police academy.
The report is part of a series that will fully explore the results of NYCLU’s findings.