It doesn’t look good for our local police departments to continue to withhold complaints against officers following a decision in federal court last week that they must be released. In a formal ruling issued Friday, United States District Court Judge Katherine Polk Failla lifted a temporary restraining order that East Hampton police, among others, had cited as the main reason they were sitting on records a new state law signed by Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo in July says are to be be made public. The law had been instantly opposed by police unions, which sued to block its implementation and are appealing to a higher court.
There is an argument to be made that releasing complaints is in the police’s interest. Some unknown number of allegations are baseless, resulting from an unpleasant encounter perhaps, or mere irritation at a parking ticket, for example. By continuing to hide such reports, the implication is that police departments have something to hide, even when they do not.
Town and village officials, who ultimately have responsibility over their respective police departments, should follow an example set in New York City last week. Within minutes of Judge Failla’s decision, more than 320,000 complaints against city officers registered with New York’s Civilian Complaint Review Board were available online. It is important to note the review board determined the vast majority were without merit.
This is an example that our local leaders should have the courage to follow.