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Freedom Of Information Lawsuit Results In NYPD Agreeing To Follow FOI Law

If you need any more proof the NYPD hates transparency, you need look no further than Keegan Stephan's victory in a Freedom of Information Law (FOIL) lawsuit:

If you can't see the tweet, it says:

Big win! To settle my lawsuit, NYPD has agreed to comply with critical component of NY Freedom of Information law

This is what we measure success with when it comes to FOIL and the NYPD: a victory is the department AGREEING TO FOLLOW THE LAW.

Stephan has been seeking information on the department's use of a sound cannon for crowd control. The NYPD, of course, had no interest in releasing these records. Central to the settlement is the department agreeing to accept FOI requests by email, something it's supposed to have been doing for more than a decade.

The man, Keegan Stephan, said in the suit that the department failed to justify withholding the records he requested and that a “policy and practice” not to accept or respond to Freedom of Information requests by email violated a 2006 provision of New York State law. Mr. Stephan also argued that by not allowing email requests, the police had increased “the time, effort, and expense involved” in obtaining records.

The department's settlement contains no admission of wrongdoing -- something common to government lawsuit settlements. This means it will accept zero responsibility for a decade-long run of FOI statute violations.

The "new" email request system will aid more New Yorkers in having their requests ignored by the NYPD. The NYPD's future use of email for FOI responses will ensure requesters are informed of denials in a much speedier fashion. The portal the NYPD is setting up on its website will provide instructions for requesters, as well as information on how to challenge denials and non-responses. If nothing else, the NYPD will be forced to follow the letter of the law a bit more closely, but it will take far more than a steady stream of FOI lawsuits for it to approach the law's spirit.

The NYPD has made a opacity a cottage industry. It has been dubbed the least responsive government agency in the US, worse than the CIA, FBI and NSA. It has developed an in-house classification system that allows pretty much anyone to designate almost any document "top secret" for almost any reason, and reached its nadir when it refused to release a copy of its FOIL response guidelines to a FOIL requester.

But this is an ugly victory -- one that should subject the department to a steady stream of ridicule. It takes a lawsuit to make a law enforcement agency follow the law. That's just depressing.

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