NYCLU and Journalist Sue to End Secrecy Surrounding NYPD Press Passes

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February 20, 2008 —  Related
Click here to read the NYCLU's petition (PDF).The New York Civil Liberties Union today filed a lawsuit in state court challenging the NYPD’s refusal to disclose information about its policy for issuing press passes to journalists covering the cops.

In May 2007, following the NYPD’s sudden revocation of well-known journalist and blogger Leonard Levitt’s press pass, the NYCLU Levitt served the NYPD with a formal request under the state’s Freedom of Information Law to disclose relevant information about the Department’s policy to issue or deny press passes. It also requested information specifically related to the decision to revoke Levitt’s pass. Over the past nine months, the NYPD has ignored the NYCLU’s request, violated statutory deadlines for responding to such requests, and denied an administrative appeal asking for a timely response.

Journalist and blogger Leonard Levitt discusses his case.“We want to ensure that the NYPD is applying its press pass policy uniformly and fairly,” said NYCLU Executive Director Donna Lieberman. “New Yorkers are entitled to know if the NYPD is stifling investigate reporting aimed at uncovering inappropriate, illicit or illegal behavior within the Department.”

Levitt, a respected reporter, columnist and editor who has worked for Newsday, the New York Post and the Associated Press, is the author of NYPDConfidential.com, a web site that investigates the NYPD. His reporting provides “an insider’s view” of the department, and includes stories on corruption, brutality and inefficiency. Through his site, Levitt has reported on the NYPD’s failure to pay its bills on time, the arrest of an NYPD narcotics officer who was involved in drug-smuggling, and police brutality.

“I think we’re going to find that this was strictly retaliatory,” Levitt said. “The police department has issued press passes to all kinds of people who they shouldn’t have according to their policy, but not to those who are in need and deserving of a pass.”

Before his press pass renewal application was denied in January 2007, Levitt held a NYPD-issued press pass for 24 years. The denial of Levitt’s application follows attempts in 2005 and 2006 to ban him from police headquarters and complaints by Police Commissioner Raymond W. Kelly to Newsday, where Levitt worked as a columnist from 1995 to 2005.

A press pass allows journalists to cross police and fire barriers to report news at emergency and crime scenes, as well as public events. Additionally, it ensures access to police headquarters and high profile court cases occurring in the city. The NYCLU is seeking all information relating to press pass applications since January 1, 2002.

“The NYCLU requested this information to shed light on the NYPD’s criteria for issuing and denying NYPD press passes and to independently analyze of the department’s decision to deny Mr. Levitt’s application,” said Corey Stoughton, the NYCLU’s lead counsel on this case. “The NYPD cannot conceal its policies from the public. We have no doubt that the courts will require the department to comply with Freedom of Information Law.”

Serving as co-counsel on the case are Michael Robotti, Lila Subramanian and Michael Connolly, who are law students from New York University Law School’s Civil Rights Clinic, and Professor Claudia Angelos, who teaches the clinic.