The NYCLU conducted an exhaustive inquiry into the policies of each police department. Through our interaction, we have found that the Saratoga Springs Police Department:
- Provided us with data on use of force encounters and some redacted portions of use of force reports but claimed that most of the substantive information in these reports were exempt from disclosure under Section 50-a of the New York Civil Rights Law.
- Produced a body camera policy that left activation of the cameras entirely up to an officer’s discretion. Rather than specify interactions where an officer must activate a body camera, the policy included only recommendations for officers turn on the cameras in certain categories of encounters.
- Included no demographic information for any of the 11,511 people the Department stopped between 2012 and 2014.
- Appeared to have no policies in a number of critical areas and was unable to provide us with any training materials for officers. Among the policies we requested but that the Department did not produce were policies on bias-based profiling, interacting with persons with disabilities, interacting with persons with limited English proficiency, and equal employment opportunity.
Policy Spotlight: Police Transparency and 50-a
There are only a few limited circumstances in which a government agency can withhold or redact public records in response to a Freedom of Information Law Request. To keep all or portions of certain records secret, a number of police departments, including Saratoga Springs, invoked Section 50-a of the New York Civil Rights Law, a narrow provision that bars public disclosure of personnel records used to evaluate officer performance. By expanding their definition of what counts as a “personnel record,” police departments across the state have tried to hide basic information about the actions of their officers and—crucially—how department leadership responds when an officer is accused of or found to have engaged in misconduct. While we did get some useful data from the Saratoga Springs Police Department, the portions of the use of force reports that they withheld under Section 50-a related to the evaluation of whether an officer’s use of force was appropriate. Public access to this type of review and analysis is vital to ensuring that there’s accountability within police departments when officers break the rules. To ensure that the public has access to this type of information from not just the Saratoga Springs Police Department but from all police departments across New York, the State Legislature must repeal Section 50-a.
You can learn more about the policies by clicking the cards below.
Documents received by October 2015