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The New York Times filed a lawsuit against the New York Police Dept. accusing the NYPD of violating Freedom of Information laws. (Credit: nyc.gov)

The New York Times announced in an article that it filed a lawsuit against the New York Police Department (NYPD) on Dec. 21, accusing the NYPD of not providing it public information.

The Times claims the NYPD “routinely violated a state law that requires government agencies to provide information to the press and the public.”

According to the Times, the police are not abiding by the Freedom of Information Law (FOIL).  Under the law, the public can be granted access to “records of governmental agencies” and media organizations often use that right in reporting.  (StinkyJournalism has used the FOIL in researching articles like this one.)

As evidence, the Times cited allegedly ignored or denied requests under FOIL for:

  • Addresses of four New York City residents with gun permits
  • The NYPD hate crime database
  • The NYPD crime incident report database
  • The NYPD FOIL request log (which the Times claims it has received before from the NYPD)

The Times also claims the NYPD has a slow response and appeals process.  And, the New York Times accused the NYPD of withholding statistics for “minor crimes.”

The New York Times Company’s vice president and assistant general counsel, David E. McCraw, called on the NYPD to be more transparent.  McCraw is quoted as saying:

“We’ve become increasingly concerned over the last two years about a growing lack of transparency at the N.Y.P.D.  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, 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.”

The NYPD’s chief spokesperson, Paul Browne, defended against the allegations.

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Browne, after “a preliminary review” of the lawsuit, claimed that “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.  We disagree with The Times’s interpretation of FOIL as contained in the papers we received.”

The New York Observer noted that in its September profile of Browne, (see here) they found “relations between the press and the NYPD have grown increasingly strained under Commissioner Ray Kelly.”

In the profile, Browne is quoted as saying: “Undoubtedly there are times when we don’t provide information as quickly as some would want, and that has led to occasional conflicts. But on the other hand, the office responds to reporters’ inquiries 24 hours a day, seven days a week.”

See New York Freedom of Information Law here.

We have written to the Times and NYPD for further comment.

UPDATE:  12/24/2010 8:22 PM EST:  Danielle Rhoades Ha of the New York Times Company responded to iMediaEthics’ email inquiry with the following statement:

“We’ve become increasingly concerned over the last two years about a growing lack of transparency at the NYPD.  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, 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.”

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NYT Sues NYPD over Freedom of Information Requests

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