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NYCLU Requests Police Data Before New York’s Highest Court

The New York Civil Liberties Union took its case before New York’s Court of Appeals June 1, 2004, asking that the Schenectady Police Department be directed to release records on the use of force by officers against citizens. The Albany Times Union reports the seven judges of the State’s highest court closely questioned attorneys for the city of Schenectady and the NYCLU over whether the city can deny public access to its records on the use of force.

“The police are public servants and they have to be accountable,” Stephen E. Gottlieb told reporters outside the courtroom. Gottlieb is board president of the NYCLU’s Capital Region chapter and a law professor at the Albany Law School. The Times Union reports the judges indicated an apparent willingness to consider a compromise in the case stemming from the NYCLU’s Freedom of Information Law (FOIL) request.

The FOIL request came after citizen complaints of use of force by police when making arrests. Federal officials continue an investigation in Schenectady of civil rights complaints numbering more than two dozen against the police. The Times Union reports the judges suggested they could resolve the disagreement by defining a standard for what constitutes use of force, including instances involving resisting arrest, police use of weapons and physical contact with the public. “They’re clearly entitled to something,” said Chief Judge Judith S. Kaye of the NYCLU request. Schenectady would be required to sort through the thousands of arrest and incident reports compiled in 1999 and 2000.

The Times Union reports one compromise suggested by the court would involve the city searching for records involving the use of force. Either a Supreme Court judge or a court-appointed referee would then examine the records in private before they could be released. “It would satisfy a need for reports,” said William Schurtman, cooperating attorney for the NYCLU.

Several media organizations, including the Times Union, The New York Times, CBS and NBC are among the 13 media groups that wrote an amicus brief in support of the NYCLU case.

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