The New York Times has sued the New York Police Department, saying the department had routinely violated a state law that requires government agencies to provide information to the press and the public.
In a lawsuit filed on Tuesday in State Supreme Court in Manhattan, The Times described four requests made by reporters this year for information that it said the police had delayed or denied. The Times said the department’s handling of the requests reflected a pattern and practice by which the police avoided providing material that the State Freedom of Information Law said must be released.
“We’ve become increasingly concerned over the last two years about a growing lack of transparency at the N.Y.P.D.,” said David E. McCraw, a vice president and assistant general counsel of The New York Times Company. “Information that was once released is now withheld. Disclosures that could be made quickly are put on hold for months.”
“The police have performed outstanding service to this city,” Mr. McCraw added, “but it’s important that they also meet their duties under the Freedom of Information Law. People have a right to know what public agencies are doing, and how they are doing it, so that there can be an informed public debate over what policies are pursued and how tax dollars are spent.”
In the lawsuit, The Times asked for a judicial order requiring the police to turn over the information and barring the Police Department “from continuing its pattern and practice of violating FOIL,” the acronym for the Freedom of Information Law.
Paul J. Browne, the Police Department’s chief spokesman, said that based on a preliminary review of The Times’s lawsuit, “none of the FOIL requests about which The Times complains, is, in our view, ripe for litigation.”
“These requests are being processed by the N.Y.P.D. in accordance with controlling law,” Mr. Browne said by e-mail. “We disagree with The Times’s interpretation of FOIL as contained in the papers we received.”
He said the department would not comment further “since these issues are now in litigation.”
The four requests from Times reporters were for the addresses of New York City residents who had been granted gun permits, for the Police Department’s database on hate crimes, for its database on crime incident reports and for the tracking log on Freedom of Information requests.
In recent years, the department has maintained a tight grip on what the public knows and does not know about its inner workings. Its strict control of information has ranged from data on crime trends to nuggets of information sought by journalists, scholars, lawmakers and others.
One example of the department’s reluctance to give out data involved statistics for minor crimes – offenses like misdemeanor thefts and assaults, marijuana possession and sex offenses other than rape. The department acknowledged last month that it had not forwarded the data to the state since 2002. It was one of only two police agencies in the state that had not done so.
(Source: NY Times)