ROCHESTER, N.Y. (WROC) — City of Rochester officials announced Tuesday an effort to create an online database of police department disciplinary records in response to repeal of Section 50-a of New York State Civil Service Law.
50-a of the Civil Rights law shields police personnel records to the public. However in early June, the New York State Senate repealed 50-a along with passing another bill which requires the New York State Police to wear body cameras.
MORE | Police reform in New York: State Senate passes 50-A repeal, New York State Police body camera bills
Currently, those records are accessible by filing a Freedom of Information Request. The new database will ultimately make access to those records without a FOIL request.
“We have already received a number of FOILs asking for such records, including one for all RPD disciplinary records,” City Communications Director Justin Roj said in a statement. “This new database will allow everyone to access these records without the delay of processing a FOIL request.”
According to a release, city officials hope to have the database running “as soon as possible, but no later than year-end.”
In addition to creating the user interface, all disciplinary records for the police department must be digitized and indexed.
Rochester Police Locust Club President Mike Mazzeo says his union received no notice of this database.
“I found out from you people about the police disciplinary database,” Rochester Police Locust Club President Mike Mazzeo said as he addressed the media Tuesday.
Mazzeo says the public database is problematic.
“Would you want your personal files out there for all your neighbors to see?” Mazzeo said. “You’re going to paint a certain picture without all the facts? It’s very dangerous.”
In addition to this change, the Rochester Police Department is also facing budget cuts. Earlier this year the Rochester City Council passed a budget announcing RPD will be losing $3.6 million.
During Tuesday’s press conference, Mazzeo advocated for defunding Rochester City Council rather than the police.
Full press conference with Rochester Police Locust Club President Mike Mazzeo
On top of the $3.6 million, the budget fully funds the Police Accountability Board, cuts the incoming Rochester police class by half, and reallocates money from special events to the recreation department.
Local legislators say they want to see the Monroe County Sheriff’s Office do something similar.
Rochester City Councilmember Mary Lupien (D-East), and Monroe County Legislator Rachel Barnhart (D-21) released a statement Monday night calling on both the the RPD and the MSCO create the online databases of police disciplinary records.
“We are calling on the Chief and the Sheriff to do the right thing and post the records online,” said Lupien said in a press release.
“This would be a good faith step that aligns with the spirit of the law and this moment in history,” said Barnhart in a press release.
Lupien and Barnhart said that posting the records online should not require more resources than departments having to continuously fill open records requests.
“Posting disciplinary records online makes them accessible to the public. This proactive step would go a long way in holding law enforcement accountable and building trust with the community,” said Lupien in a press release.
“Telling people to file a FOIL isn’t the right approach. The open records law allows governments to drag their feet for weeks or months. The process can be hard for people to navigate,” said Barnhart in a press release.
On Tuesday, the Monroe County Sheriff’s Office responded with the following statement:
The Monroe County Sheriff’s Office is receiving multiple Freedom of Information Law (FOIL) requests for hundreds of files that it is currently reviewing and working to respond to under the repeal of Section 50a of the New York State Civil Service Law and amendments to the Public Officers Law. While we are reviewing those requests, MCSO is in the process of building the most efficient business model, to include technologies, that will allow our agency to comply with the law in the most efficient and effective manner possible. We appreciate the public’s patience as we work to respond to the FOIL requests in a timely fashion, while creating a new mechanism to relay information to the public.