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Legal Aid Society Counters NYC Police Misconduct With New Database

The Legal Aid Society New York City has a new tool in the fight against rogue cops — a browsable database of NYC federal civil rights lawsuit data called CAPstat (capstat.nyc).

The nonprofit organization released the information in early March 2019 – part of a national drive by civil rights groups, journalists, and citizens concerned about police wrongdoing to “identify, track and analyze patterns” of misconduct.

The database is “searchable by an officer’s name, unit, precinct and type of allegation — or by the names of the people filing suit,” The New York Times (nytimes.com) reports. “The data includes court records, news articles and published decisions about officers that defense attorneys have obtained,” according to the Times.

The site contains “2,339 lawsuits filed from January 2015 through mid-2018 against 3,897 NYC officers in the Eastern and Southern Districts of New York, as well as internal disciplinary records for about 1,800 officers accused of misconduct between 2011 and 2015.”

According to the database: “The purpose of presenting this demonstration project is to show how transparency can improve our collective ability to identify trends of misconduct across, for example, different types of allegations, commands and units that could inform policy debates, improve public discourse about police misconduct allegations and be a resource for people who witnessed or were harmed by police misconduct.”

The 75th Precinct, which encompasses East New York and Brooklyn’s Cypress Hills, leads in the number of lawsuits. One officer has been sued at least 31 times. The settlements for him alone total “at least $410,752,” nytimes.com reports. 

Records were taken from federal and state court websites, plus leaked disciplinary reports leaked by Buzzfeed News in 2018.

According to the New York Daily News (nydailynews.com), “The data collection was inspired in part by the city’s position on police disciplinary records — that they are confidential under state Civil Rights Law section 50-a.”

The database will provide some transparency. “Our interest is not just who is a bad officer,” Cynthia Conti-Cook, a staff attorney at the Legal Aid Society, told the Times. “The interest is in which commands are really cultivating the type of misconduct that systematically goes undisciplined, completely unchecked, unsupervised and allows officers to act without any accountability?”

Police unions, however, see the database as “anti-cop.” Police Benevolent Association President Patrick Lynch said: “The intent of this database is clearly to help guilty criminals beat the charges against them. By publishing this database online, they will be doing even greater damage: anyone with a grudge against cops will be free to peruse the false and frivolous allegations against specific officers and use them as inspiration for a campaign of harassment, intimidation or worse.” 

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Sources: capstat.nyc, nytimes.com, nydailynews.com

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