The New York Police Department‘s animus toward Freedom of Information requests is legendary, and mayor-elect Bill de Blasio has been one of the department’s most outspoken critics. As de Blasio takes the City Hall reins, transparency advocates have a tremendous opportunity. But if you want real reform, hold de Blasio to his watchdog roots.
In his current role as NYC Public Advocate, Mr. de Blasio has called out the NYPD for their inability (or unwillingness) to comply with the state’s Freedom of Information Law (FOIL). In April, his office put out a comprehensive report that graded each city department’s responsiveness to public records requests. The NYPD scored a solid “F,” having failed to answer or “losing” nearly a third of FOIL requests submitted during the three-month analysis period.
“The City is inviting waste and corruption by blocking information that belongs to the public,” wrote de Blasio upon the report’s release. His recommendations went beyond typical vague assurances of “greater oversight” or toothless advisory boards. Specifically, the mayor-elect offered three proposals, quoted in full below:
- Hold the Mayor Accountable : Pass legislation requiring the Mayor to include FOIL response statistics in the annual Mayor’s Management Report, in addition to regular reporting on outstanding requests to the Public Advocate and City Council. The Mayor should coordinate a single online hub to submit, process and monitor all FOIL requests.
- Fine Agencies that Repeatedly Break the Law : Assess fines against City agencies found by a court to have a ‘pattern and practice’ of violating FOIL or de facto denials resulting from excessive delays.
- Proactively Disclose Frequently Requested Data : Mandate online publishing of the most commonly-sought information. Proactive disclosure will save time and resources by posting minutes, public schedules and license data online for easy access.
When Bill de Blasio is sworn in on January 1, he will assume the authority to act on all of his recommendations for opening up NYC government to public scrutiny, and the police in particular. As mayor, de Blasio can make real the reforms he has proposed and evolve from critic to catalyst.
If you’re interested in helping hold him to those promises, check out the NYPD’s agency page on MuckRock and join our mailing list: MuckRock users are keeping an the NYPD’s progress, and you can help.