Why is the New York Police Department reportedly keeping secret its manual that instructs officials how to process freedom of information requests?
Because those materials aren’t covered under the state’s Freedom of Information Law, the department said.
Shawn Musgrave, a reporter for MuckRock, which specializes in freedom of information requests, requested the NYPD’s written guidelines on how freedom of information requests are handled in a letter last December.
The NYPD acknowledged receipt of the request in early January. After Musgrave sent a follow-up letter at month’s end, the department wrote him back in February, refusing to turn over the information and explaining that the manual is protected under attorney-client privilege.
Musgrave wrote the NYPD again Feb. 12 asking for further information. In particular he noted:
I would be remiss if I did not highlight the symbolic significance of this particular rejection, especially in the context of so many absurd rejections that have issued from the NYPD FOIL unit over the past year. Out of all NYPD’s offices, one might assert that the Freedom of Information team ought to be among the more transparent. This latest rejection belies this assumption even more than previous ones. In past rejections, the FOIL unit has claimed “inability” to locate documents even when I have painstakingly described them down to precise form number. Lt. Mantellino has also invoked exemptions for documents that New York courts ordered releasable in the past two or three years. In this case, NYPD’s Records Access Officer has rejected a request for documents about the very process of transparency itself within the department. Rejecting such requests in slapdash fashion does little to inspire confidence in NYPD’s competence or good faith in fulfilling its obligations under FOIL.
Hee’s the response Musgrave received:
The entire thread of letters back and forth can be viewed here.
Jonathan David, NYPD’s records process appeals officer, wrote to Musgrave that the manual constituted “confidential communications between members of the FOIL unit and their attorneys in the context of the providing of legal advice concerning the meaning and requirements of the Freedom of Information law.”
The executive director of New York Committee on Open Government (COOG) Robert Freeman told The Washington Free Beacon: “Legal advice is something that can be accepted, rejected, or modified by the boss. When it is adopted by the decision maker, it’s no longer legal advice, it becomes the policy of the agency. There are any number of circumstances where similar kinds of documents have been made public via FOIL requests,” noted AllGov.
The Free Beacon also reported that “the NYPD is notoriously bad at complying with Freedom of Information requests,” noting its refusal to release weapons discharge reports even after being told a court to do so, AllGov added.
Prior to becoming mayor, Bill de Blasio publicly criticized the NYPD’s lack of transparency, AllGov said, adding that a report prepared when he was New York’s public advocate showed the department routinely ignored about 30% of all public records requests.
Featured image: AP