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Judge rules in favor of Syracuse police over disciplinary records request

Ellen Abbott
WRVO News (file photo)


When the New York Civil Liberties Union requested disciplinary records from the Syracuse Police Department back in the fall, they weren’t expecting to go to court for some of them. 

Bobby Hodgson, one of the union’s senior attorneys, said that the police department didn’t fulfill the NYCLU’s full request by withholding unsubstantiated complaints. 

Hodgson described what exactly falls under the umbrella of “unsubstantiated” as, “anything where after review, the police department either didn't investigate, or ultimately decided not to impose discipline on the officer.”

Under the state’s Freedom of Information Law, anyone who requests public documents is entitled to them. However, last week, Onondaga County Judge Gerard Neri ruled that the public does not have access to complaints that didn't result in disciplinary action.

In a statement to WRVO, the City of Syracuse Corporation Counsel, Kristin Smith, said the decision was intended “to protect the privacy interests of individual government employees, including police officers.”

However, Hodgson said he’s not pleased with that reason.

“The vast majority of records do not actually result in a police department having disciplined their own officers,” said Hodgson. “That's part of the reason why it's so important that the public gain access to see records where discipline wasn't imposed and to ask the question 'why.'” 

Ranette Releford, the administrator for Syracuse’s Citizen Review Board, said that after the state repealed state law 50-a, which kept police disciplinary records private, she was hopeful for more transparency and accountability in Syracuse. 

“I wasn't particularly surprised at the ruling, but I was hopeful that the repeal of 50-a would assist the community and receiving the much needed transparency related to misconduct records,” said Releford. 

The New York Civil Liberties Union did request these same records in cities across New York State and were mostly complied with without lawsuits ensuing. Hodgson said Syracuse’s ruling is an outlier and that’s why they plan to appeal the decision.

Madison Ruffo received a Master’s Degree from the Craig Newmark Graduate School of Journalism, where she specialized in audio and health/science reporting. Madison has extensively covered the environment, local politics, public health, and business. When she’s not reporting, you can find Madison reading, hiking, and spending time with her family and friends.