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Report Claims a Third of FOIA Requests To the NYPD Go Unanswered

samzenpus posted about a year ago | from the no-information dept.

Government 65

Daniel_Stuckey writes "Reporters Matt Apuzzo and Adam Goldman, who shared a Pulitzer last year as part of the Associated Press team covering the NYPD's surveillance activity, have summed it up perfectly: The NYPD doesn't answer document requests. "For the most part, they don't respond," Apuzzo told the Huffington Post. 'Even the NSA responds.' It's not just reporters who've noticed. New York City Public Advocate and mayoral candidate Bill de Blasio gave the police department a failing grade in an April report based on its dismal response rate to Freedom of Information requests. By de Blasio's analysis, nearly a third of requests submitted to NYPD go unanswered."

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How low can we go (3, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#45331211)

LAPD and NYPD are locked in an epic struggle to see which department can be a bigger waste of taxpayer money.

Re:How low can we go (0, Redundant)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#45331287)

I think the DOD has already won that race..

Re:How low can we go (1)

Runaway1956 (1322357) | about a year ago | (#45335497)

You err, but only because you manage to confuse bush league teams with professional league teams.

Re:How low can we go (2)

Austrian Anarchy (3010653) | about a year ago | (#45331529)

LAPD and NYPD are locked in an epic struggle to see which department can be a bigger waste of taxpayer money.

Don't forget SFPD! I've been trying to get *any* record of a particular arrest from 1986. The guy plead guilty too (the he really did it way, with a really good lawyer, not the way we usually read about) and I can't even get an answer to my requests using their email, even to the district stations.

Re:How low can we go (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#45331615)

and I can't even get an answer to my requests using their email, even to the district stations.

Have you thought about trying a snail-mail letter? Or a phone call? Or going in person?

Don't get me wrong, email certainly should be a viable option. But it could be that they simply ignore any such requests coming in from email, or some other non-malicious reason.

Re:How low can we go (1)

Austrian Anarchy (3010653) | about a year ago | (#45341319)

Going in person is a little rough for me, since I live about 2,480 miles away. Thinking of snailmail next.

Re:How low can we go (1)

brunes69 (86786) | about a year ago | (#45335127)

Just a thought, but I think you would want to be going through the court to get that information, not the police.

Re:How low can we go (1)

Austrian Anarchy (3010653) | about a year ago | (#45335645)

Just a thought, but I think you would want to be going through the court to get that information, not the police.

Trying to figure out that minefield too. It took a while to get through the federal system (SFPD performed the arrest with the FBI, he was housed in the Oakland City Jail until his federal bail hearing). Now I have a bunch of good info, but the earliest document is five days after his arrest.

Re:How low can we go (1)

Austrian Anarchy (3010653) | about a year ago | (#45338899)

Just a thought, but I think you would want to be going through the court to get that information, not the police.

Slashdot is magic: From Oakland - "Additional time is required to answer your public records request. We need to search for, collect, or examine a large number of records (Government Code Section 6253(c)(2)). "

First answer I got of any kind from any LEO in California.

Re:How low can we go (5, Interesting)

Charliemopps (1157495) | about a year ago | (#45332483)

That's true of just about every department in the country. I think most people in this country have ridiculous illusions about the quality and skill of our police force. Reality hits them square in the face when they actually have to call the police. My neighbors home was burglarized recently, the police showed up, told him there wasn't much they could do and left. They didn't even ask any of the neighbors (like me) if we'd seen anything. No investigation at all. Get pulled over with a Marijuana pipe in your car and you'll have 3 squad cars on the scene within minutes.

Re:How low can we go (2)

zugmeister (1050414) | about a year ago | (#45333453)

..."No investigation at all. Get pulled over with a Marijuana pipe in your car and you'll have 3 squad cars on the scene within minutes."

Wouldn't this be more an example of a misappropriation of resources than an example of the lack of quality and skill exhibited by our police force?

Re:How low can we go (1)

tlhIngan (30335) | about a year ago | (#45336277)

the lack of quality and skill exhibited by our police force

The problem with policing is well, the pool of candidates is pretty small. Everytime you hear a call for "more police on the streets", the question you should be asking is "where are they going to find those people?". Most departments are understaffed, and the necessity to hire means the standards of hiring get *really* low.

Because face it - it's not a good job at all - you face all sorts of lowlifes all the time. This already screens out the good candidates who realize they could get better (read: safer and maybe higher paying) jobs in a different, but related field. So you're pretty much left with the bottom of the barrel, power hungry abusive people who really ought to not get the job.

Heck, some of the biggest lowlifes are those on the traffic beat - you want to see abuse? Watch how otherwise average middle-age middle-to-upper class people react to getting a ticket.

Re:How low can we go (1)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#45334575)

Holy shit, they actually came to his house? The last time my apartment was broken into, the guy on the phone just told me "tough luck" and ended the call.

Re:How low can we go (1)

DNS-and-BIND (461968) | about a year ago | (#45334799)

Burglary is a low-priority crime. Nobody got hurt, the amount of property lost was small, and there's the redistribution of wealth angle to consider. What were the cops supposed to do? It's not like TV where they send in CSI to do DNA samples and photo enhancement. If the burglar doesn't know the victim then it's impossible to solve.

Re:How low can we go (1)

operagost (62405) | about a year ago | (#45336391)

A likely non-expert, the original poster, gave one obvious thing they could have done: ask the neighbors if they'd seen anything. Heck, one of the neighbors could have done it, and accidentally given that away while speaking with the cop. We can't allow our police to decide which laws are worth enforcing. The people have a right to their property, and if the police won't help protect it then the people are going to take that task into their own hands-- and it won't be pretty.

Re:How low can we go (1)

Bob the Super Hamste (1152367) | about a year ago | (#45335471)

That about sums it up they are pretty worthless and only seem to do the easy work that gets good headlines. While I was in college my sister had a boy friend who had a number of open warrants out for his arrest who also liked to beat women. I was house sitting and the worthless local police wouldn't come and pick him up but a couple days later I managed to get the county Sheriff to come and pick him up. Unfortunatly my sister was too afraid to press charges for the physical abuse so he got less time that he should have.

Re:How low can we go (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#45337073)

answering these requests can be a full time job

NYPD Blues (1)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#45331223)

I wonder how many of their 911 emergency calls go unanswered?

Re:NYPD Blues (1)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#45331341)

I wonder how many of their 911 emergency calls go unanswered?

Since they won't answer that FOIA request I guess we'll never know.

Re:NYPD Blues (1)

erikkemperman (252014) | about a year ago | (#45334109)

I wonder how many of their 911 emergency calls go unanswered?

Since they won't answer that FOIA request I guess we'll never know.

Well, if you put in three FOIA requests then maybe one of them might be answered, if I read this right.

Good or Bad (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#45331231)

The requests that go unanswered are either badly written (you know what I mean: smiley faces, horrible grammer, bad spelling, etc.) or would involve the department turning over information that would be questionable or even criminal in nature.

Re:Good or Bad (5, Informative)

Em Adespoton (792954) | about a year ago | (#45331495)

The requests that go unanswered are either badly written (you know what I mean: smiley faces, horrible grammer, bad spelling, etc.) or would involve the department turning over information that would be questionable or even criminal in nature.

I think you misunderstand -- it's not that 1/3 don't get the information they're asking for... it's that they're unanswered. In other words, no "thank you for submitting your request X - it has tracking item Y" or "Your request has been examined by Officer X and has been deemed to be improperly submitted. Please follow the guidelines as made available here:" or "Thank you for your request. It has been examined, and we have determined that the information requested is not of a type made available by this department through FOIA requests." It doesn't take much of a tracking system to handle this; there are many out there that could do the job.

More likely it's a case of the department not being structured to actually handle FOIA requests, which means the ones that ARE answered are ones where the person who handles the inbox actually knows who to hand the request off to -- and no item tracking system is in place at all. Should be pretty easy to fix, if tehre's any incentive to do so (aside from it being illegal not to).

Re:Good or Bad (1)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#45331835)

Exactly if they pretend it was lost in the mail, they are no longer required to answer anything. My real thought on the matter is that they are simply incompetent. They have been striving for that for a long time now. Maybe the cops on the beat need to where some body cams, this way there would be less to question.

Re:Good or Bad (3, Informative)

fuzzyfuzzyfungus (1223518) | about a year ago | (#45331535)

Refusals or demands for clarification qualify as 'answers'. Here, one third just disappear into a void, neither fulfilled nor denied.

Re:Good or Bad (1)

khallow (566160) | about a year ago | (#45331717)

Even if that were so, the NYPD should answer those requests, if only to say that they can't honor them.

Wrong Subject (5, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#45331233)

Should read:

"NYPD ignores the law"

since they're required to respond to these requests.

Re:Wrong Subject (2, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#45331277)

What are ya gonna do, call the police?

Re:Wrong Subject (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#45331279)

Should read:

"NYPD ignores the law"

since they're required to respond to these requests.

Is the NYPD really required to respond to requests for info on UFO/alien activity in NYC? Where JFK, Elvis and Marilyn are hiding? I'd want to know a little more about the ignored requests.

Re:Wrong Subject (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#45331365)

Who else are we going to ask, the folks in Roswell? They're sworn to secrecy by the Stonecutters.

Re:Wrong Subject (1)

odoketa (1040340) | about a year ago | (#45331371)

I'm pretty sure if the law says 'must respond to all properly filed requests', then yes they are.

This type of counterargument may have a long and storied history, but it's still crap. If the law says X, then you are required to follow the law. Even if you don't like it.

And for God's sake - they're the ones who are supposed to enforce the law! What does it say about the NYPD when they think they can pick and choose which laws are appropriate, or which parts of the law they have to follow?

Re:Wrong Subject (1)

fuzzyfuzzyfungus (1223518) | about a year ago | (#45331609)

"What does it say about the NYPD when they think they can pick and choose which laws are appropriate, or which parts of the law they have to follow?"

That even pigs can be trained to know what they can get away with?

Requester must specify which document they want (1)

raymorris (2726007) | about a year ago | (#45333455)

The person filing the request must specify which record they want. So "Where is Elvis hiding" isn't a FOI request.
"Please provide the arrest report for when Elvis Presley was arrested on Oct. 18, 1956" is a FOI request.

Re:Wrong Subject (1)

meerling (1487879) | about a year ago | (#45336541)

There are many responses they could give without telling you what you wanted. They really should be responding, even if it's in the negative. Here are a few possible responses for your 'requests':

I'm sorry, but all incidents that occur outside of NYC are not handled by this department. Please contact the department that handles the location that incident occurred in.

We do not track people that are officially dead and have no idea where they might be if they are not in their assigned grave, tomb, or urn.

Unidentified Flying Objects are the domain of Federal Aviation Administration or the United States Air Force, and although we appreciate your admiration for our abilities, our officers still do not have the ability to fly.

The police department does not specifically investigate aliens, unless they are performing criminal activities. Simply being an alien is not illegal, though improper entry into this country is illegal, that issue is handled by the Department of Immigration. Thank you for your concern, and please stop asking us if anyone is from another planet. You don't really want to know the response.

We regret that your request can not be fulfilled at this time due to legal restrictions. Thank you for your concern.

NYPD ingnores the law is too vague (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#45334917)

As a New Yorker not a day goes by that I don't see a half dozen police officers breaking the law in a serious way.

On moving violations alone it is a running joke between New Yorkers when we see a police car driving on the sidewalk or going the wrong way down a one way street to mutter, "Someone should arrest that guy" Of course the flip side is that a disproportunately high percentage of pedestrians killed in traffic are killed by cops talking on their cellphones or just driving recklessly because they know they can and of course on average a NYPD cop tickets less than one car for a moving violation per year, even though there a collision for every cop every month.

PS It has been 4 years since I last called 911, they have yet to respond. When I called the police station directly they didn't even pick up the phone. When the trial came the DA was able to find recordings of the 911 calls, but they never made it to a police officer. Basically, we'd be better off with no police department than the lawless holigans we have calling themselves police officers in NYC.

1/3 is now "most" ? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#45331235)

1/3 sounds like a minority of requests to me, not "most".

Re:1/3 is now "most" ? (2)

mmell (832646) | about a year ago | (#45331263)

I'm sorry - my brain parsed that as "the Minority Report"...

Re:1/3 is now "most" ? (1)

Arker (91948) | about a year ago | (#45332039)

1/3rd would be a minority, and one (very friendly) source says 1/3rd go unanswered. Everyone else thinks the percentage is larger - by some reckonings a majority may actually go unanswered.

Re:1/3 is now "most" ? (1)

s.petry (762400) | about a year ago | (#45333109)

Not answering is illegal. It does not matter if it's 1/2, 1/3, or 1/100 requests it is still against the law. Now if NY accepted 2/3ds of a fine as full payment or accepted 2/3rds of your taxes as payment in full maybe they would have some barter room.

FOIL (4, Informative)

wiredlogic (135348) | about a year ago | (#45331293)

Technically, there are no FIOA requests answered by any New York government office since the equivalent state law is abbreviated FOIL.

And... (0)

Frosty Piss (770223) | about a year ago | (#45331367)

While 1/3 go unanswered, that means a vary healthy majority are answered. Seriously, for a paramilitary organization such as the NYPD, 2/3 is not bad.

Certainly there is room for improvement, and it's probably a staffing issue.

Re:And... (1)

Threni (635302) | about a year ago | (#45331431)

Is replying optional? Or is there some sort of requirement?

Re:And... (1)

Austrian Anarchy (3010653) | about a year ago | (#45331543)

Is replying optional? Or is there some sort of requirement?

You know the score, pal! If you're not a cop, you're "little people."

Re:And... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#45332119)

No choice, huh?

Re:And... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#45332961)

While 1/3 go unanswered, that means a vary healthy majority are answered. Seriously, for a paramilitary organization such as the NYPD, 2/3 is not bad.

Certainly there is room for improvement, and it's probably a staffing issue.

If you mean an overstaffing issue, I would agree with you wholeheartedly.

And anyone who thinks any law enforcement agency is somehow understaffed should try and fucking remember the hundreds that showed up in uniform to lock down the city of Boston before the dust had even settled. The kind of enforcement that showed up out of nowhere would make a war zone jealous.

Lack of manpower my ass.

Re:And... (1)

s.petry (762400) | about a year ago | (#45333055)

Of course we hope that staffing is the issue, but as the guy once said "Never assume". Considering that NYPD had policies like Stop&Frisk, it could very well be that they have people holding offices that just don't give a shit about the law. That lack of regard tends to trickle down to the people they hire.

Re:FOIL (1)

interkin3tic (1469267) | about a year ago | (#45331387)

If anyone is wondering, he's not making a joke about foiling transparent government. It stands for Freedom of Information Law [ny.gov]

Re:FOIL (1)

hawk (1151) | about a year ago | (#45333239)

Nah, it was the writers' math teachers that were foiled . . . mixing "for the most point, they don't respond" with "nearly a third" not answered . . . so for the most part they *do* respond.

hawk

Nothing to see here - Move along (1)

ackthpt (218170) | about a year ago | (#45331357)

What is printed above the information desk of the NYPD

Oh lordy (-1, Troll)

Impy the Impiuos Imp (442658) | about a year ago | (#45331527)

Regarding their attitude towards the FOIA requests, where's that rancid cocks up your fetid ass guy when you need him?

Re:Oh lordy (1)

game kid (805301) | about a year ago | (#45332745)

He works at the NYPD, but since he's too busy cleaning his PC with MyCleanPC, he keeps deleting FOIA requests instead of answering them. Oops.

Failure (0, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#45331547)

On one hand I see little point in even sending FOIA requests to the NYPD.
What ever your question is, take the worst possible answer you can think of, add in murder and rape and a few other crimes, and you have your correct answer.

Q) Is it official NYPD policy to shoot black people in the back?
A) Of course, but then we rape them after murdering them.

Q) Is it official NYPD policy to tazer children until they suffocate as a competition support with official scoring system?
A) Of course, but then we rape them after murdering them. (1 point for murder, 2 points for rape, 3 points if no one catches it on a cell camera)

See how easy it is? And true to my word, the truthful answers are worse than the ones above!

Until it is either illegal for "shoot first, as questions maybe later, probably never" policy - OR - it's legal for non-cops to use the same policy when being approached by a police officer, then anything they say that doesn't involve admitting rape and murder is an out-right lie anyway.

Not to mention you can't slander a reputation when that reputation is already to murder and rape people.
If they didn't want that image, I'd imagine they would put a tiny bit more effort into not murdering and raping people. Seems perfectly legit to me.

Re:Failure (1)

Em Adespoton (792954) | about a year ago | (#45331933)

Until it is either illegal for "shoot first, as questions maybe later, probably never" policy - OR - it's legal for non-cops to use the same policy when being approached by a police officer, then anything they say that doesn't involve admitting rape and murder is an out-right lie anyway.

Not to mention you can't slander a reputation when that reputation is already to murder and rape people.
If they didn't want that image, I'd imagine they would put a tiny bit more effort into not murdering and raping people. Seems perfectly legit to me.

I didn't think politicians were allowed on slashdot? An AC politician is an oxy moron....

Not unanswered - round filed (2)

WillAffleckUW (858324) | about a year ago | (#45331695)

File 13, the circular file.

Sent to recycling before processing.

Why are you surprised?

Timeout (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#45331697)

Maybe requestors should increase their timeout

I guess .... (1)

PPH (736903) | about a year ago | (#45331853)

... this is so if you don't count, "You talkin' to me?" as a valid answer.

Does FOIA have teeth? (1)

erroneus (253617) | about a year ago | (#45331911)

It's time to bare them if they do. NYPD is pretty famous for stonewalling on certain issues. It's time that wall fell on a few of them.

Re:Does FOIA have teeth? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#45332355)

I don't know if the one in New York does or not. However, many have a combination of carrots and sticks. Usually, it comes down to paying the requester's costs in getting the documents they were denied but you can also get statutory damages. Where I live, they had a history of agencies blowing off requests so the law says that if agencies don't respond at all and you properly appeal to court, then they cannot claim in court that the document falls into certain exemptions. Only the more technical ones or those designed to protect the public can be raised in court. (Incidentally, the legislature, the governor's staff and the state supreme court are exempt and can raise new exemptions whenever they want.)

Another N.H. advantage (2)

J'raxis (248192) | about a year ago | (#45332301)

In New Hampshire, our state equivalent to FOIA, RSA 91-A [state.nh.us] , requires that a government entity respond within 5 days to a right-to-know request or they can be hauled into court. RSA 91-A:4, IV. They don't have to provide the information within 5 days, but they at least have to respond saying they have received the request and either say how long it will take to comply with the request, or explain---under a very short list of enumerated exemptions in RSA 91-A:5---why the request is being denied. Denials themselves can of course be appealed. RSA 91-A:7. And RSA 91-A:8 authorizes the courts to award attorneys fees to the complainant if they're successful in demonstrating the agency violated the right-to-know law. Wilful violations by individual bureaucrats can even render them personally liable for all the court costs. RSA 91-A:8, IV.

New York's FOIA law doesn't have remedies similar to this?

New York is similar, they just ignore laws (1)

raymorris (2726007) | about a year ago | (#45333441)

I just skimmed New York's statue is similar. New York just ignores the law http://www.ojjpac.org/sanctuary.asp [ojjpac.org] .
They don't follow laws, they don't try to change laws that they think should be changed, they just ignore them.
The majority of New York voters support ignoring the law.

Re:New York is similar, they just ignore laws (1)

J'raxis (248192) | about a year ago | (#45333795)

I don't think you can really compare the two. One, in the case of a right-to-know law, the government ignoring it is most likely not the will of the people; in the second case, it sounds like it is doing the exact opposite, following the will of the majority of the people. Two, again in the case of an RTK law, the government ignoring it sounds like pretty blatant self-serving corruption---what kinds of abuse of the citizenry are they hiding by not responding to FOIA requests served upon police departments?---whereas in the second case, this sounds like wilful civil disobedience by a large portion of the citizenry, and their representatives and law enforcement officials, who feel the law is unjust.

There's probably also a constitutional argument to be made in the case of the IIRIRA. Practically every policy the Federal Government tries to force on the states now is an unconstitutional overreach of their explicitly enumerated powers. New Hampshire, and I think this is virtually unique among the 50 state constitutions, has an explicit sovereignty clause: Part I, Art. 7 [nh.gov] . It's the complement to the Tenth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, and says that New Hampshire has only ceded sovereignty where explicitly consented to by its people or their legislature. So if this IIRIRA thing wasn't explicitly consented to by New Hampshire's people or its legislature, it's not a "law" here regardless of what the Feds think.

good argument for anything else, this is enumerate (1)

raymorris (2726007) | about a year ago | (#45335421)

> There's probably also a constitutional argument to be made in the case of the IIRIRA. Practically every policy the Federal
> Government tries to force on the states now is an unconstitutional overreach of their explicitly enumerated powers.

Most are unconstitutional overreach. The Constitution grants only ~18 powers to the federal government.
Regulating immigration happens to be one thing the federal government can and arguably must do. (Consider the effect of article IV otherwise).

One of the enumerated powers is "To establish a uniform Rule of Naturalization". Naturalization means:

1) to confer upon (an alien) the rights and privileges of a citizen. [such as a driver's license]
2) to introduce or adopt (foreign practices, words, etc.) into a country or into general use

Re:good argument for anything else, this is enumer (1)

J'raxis (248192) | about a year ago | (#45375141)

The Feds can regulate immigration, but since general police power isn't an enumerated power, they can't actually police immigrants. In other words, the Feds can define "citizen," "permanent resident," &c., and they can grant privileges to each of these terms based on whatever criteria they come up with, but they don't actually have the constitutional power to send enforcers into the States and apprehend so-called "illegal" immigrants. The most they can do is deny such people recognition as U.S. citizens and the privileges that entails.

And of course the States are free to grant whatever privileges they wish to their inhabitants regardless of what the Feds call such people. If a State wants to allow non-citizens to have drivers licenses (the Feds have no jurisdiction at all over driver licensing), legal "residency" for State- or local-level purposes, &c., they can.

What do they expect? (1)

Lumpy (12016) | about a year ago | (#45334681)

NYPD is the single most corrupt police department in the united states, they make the LAPD look like honest angels.
If they were not corrupt they would happily abide by the law and answer these. What are they hiding? It has to be illegal and unethical activities.

1/3 =/= "most" (1)

akpak (2594519) | about a year ago | (#45338961)

So two thirds DO get answered? That seems to indicate that "for the most part" they DO respond. By law, three thirds should get answered, but it doesn't seem fair to say "they don't respond."
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