Police departments are one of the most secretive institutions in society. In a capitalist country that generally denies the rights of organized labor, with "right to work laws," for example, and where corporations target workers who try to organize, police unions are powerful political tools. Police can negotiate contracts that shield police from accountability to the public.
A new tool, Law Enforcement Look-Up, developed by The Legal Aid Society in New York, "provides one-stop access to law enforcement misconduct data in New York City. LELU is an extension of the Legal Aid Society's Cop Accountability Project (CAP), which empowers organizations and communities across New York City to hold police officers accountable for civil rights violations."
As reported by Gothamist, given exclusive access to the project before its official launch on Monday, October 10, 2022, "The records include civil lawsuits filed against police officers, documents from NYPD internal investigations, Civilian Complaint Review Board allegations and a trove of district attorney letters regarding officers' credibility — some obtained by Gothamist. The site also houses a smaller set of records on city Department of Correction staff discipline."
Jennvine Wong, a staff attorney with the Legal Aid Society's Cop Accountability Project, explains, "Now, a member of the public knowing that information, they could write to their council member, they could advocate with other organizations, they can advocate with their neighbors and say: 'This officer has a history of misconduct and has not been disciplined,'" Wong said. "'Why is my taxpayer money going to fund this officer's salary? Why is he still on the force?'"
Accountability for police officers has historically proved elusive to the public. The Legal Aid Office clarifies, "For far too long, a state law known as police secrecy law 50-a kept law enforcement misconduct records shrouded in secrecy and withheld from the public. Following the repeal of 50-a on June 12, 2020, state and city agencies started disclosing some misconduct records. By making these many forms of misconduct records accessible in one place, the Cop Accountability Project is providing members of the public with crucial information needed to help achieve meaningful accountability."
Check out the article, "How the Police Benevolent Association became a political force." Chris Hayes, writing for "The Gotham Center for New York City History," writes, "In its more than sixty years as a labor union, the PBA has been remarkably effective in shielding officers from accountability and external scrutiny, painting its members as embattled soldiers who are perpetually on the brink of collapse, ever in struggle with cynical politicians eager to sacrifice them. That strategy has consistently worked for decades, and the PBA is demonstrating that it still does."
Human Rights Watch extensive multi-city report, "Shielded from Justice: Police Brutality and Accountability in the United States," includes data from Atlanta, Boston, Chicago, Detroit, Indianapolis, Los Angeles, Minnesota, New Orleans, New York, Philadelphia, Portland, Providence, San Francisco, and Washington, D.C.