Police Complaint Data Fall Short of Real Transparency

By Declaration Staff

In a comment submitted earlier today to the Managing Director’s Office on the implementation of City Executive Order 5-17, The Declaration highlighted the serious flaws in the first posting of data about civilian complaints against police, or CAPs, under that order and recommended that a new executive order be signed addressing those major errors.

The first data posted under the Executive Order, officially announced on November 14th and covering most of 2017, fall far short of real transparency. Even though we identified multiple data points which must be included to meaningfully increase public knowledge of police disciplinary procedures, many of those data points were left out of the dataset.

For instance, the Investigative Findings column is limited to “sustained” or “other than sustained.” But this leaves out crucial information. A “sustained” complaint means that Internal Affairs determined the complaint was accurate and described inappropriate behavior.

“Other than sustained,” however, includes three separate categories, each with different meanings. An “unfounded” complaint means that Internal Affairs determined the complained-of event did not occur at all. An “exonerated” complaint means that an event was determined to have actually occurred, but did not constitute a violation of police policies. And a complaint which is “not sustained” means that the evidence was insufficient to prove what occurred one way or another.

Clearly, each of these different categories carries a different meaning for the accuracy of a complaint. Yet the database arbitrarily compresses them into one category, denying this information to the public.

Moreover, the City continues to deny access by the public to the names of officers against whom complaints are filed, but at the same time acknowledges that its rationale for doing so is flimsy.

In a press release accompanying the official announcement of this data, officials claimed that “the City has determined that if a reporter wants to request CAPs for a specific officer by name, they may call Internal Affairs and they will be provided the case numbers going back five years. They can then cross reference those numbers with the open data set.”

If the City admits that it can safely release officer names to the press, who are nothing but the public’s servants, it can equally release this information to the whole public in a data format which can be analyzed.

Finally, the City has backtracked on its promise to allow continuing access to paper complaint investigation files, a decision which undermines any possibility of real transparency by depriving the public of the right to audit the data. Other police datasets that exclude the public from any auditing role, such as the police shooting public data, have been found to be flawed and misleading by reporters.

In order to fix these and other flaws highlighted in our comment, Mayor Kenney should issue a new executive order after a period of notice and comment for the public to weigh in.

To view the new police complaint data, click here or here. To view our most recent comment, click here.

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