Today BuzzFeed News is making public one of the New York Police Department’s most fiercely guarded secrets: a database of disciplinary findings for about 1,800 NYPD employees who faced departmental misconduct charges between 2011 and 2015.
This information has been closely guarded for years, and completely off-limits since 2016, when the NYPD removed them from public view, citing a controversial state law that shields police officers’ misconduct. As a result, New Yorkers who are charged with a crime have no simple way to find out if the officer who arrested them has a misconduct record that might affect their credibility with a jury. Officers who have faced disciplinary charges have limited information about how their punishment compares with those of other officers in similar situations. And taxpayers as a whole have no way to assess how their police department is policing its own.
Many other large departments, in states such as Illinois and Florida, routinely make this information available. “The public has a right to know what our public officials are doing, and this is especially true with our police officers, who have the power to shoot to kill, use force, and deprive people of their liberty through stop or arrest,” said Samuel Walker, a national policing expert.
BuzzFeed News determined that there is an overwhelming public interest in these documents’ release, and so we are publishing them in a format that is designed to be searchable by criminal defendants, police officers, scholars, and the public.
The files were provided by a source who requested anonymity. Their legitimacy was verified through more than 100 calls to NYPD employees, visits to officers’ homes, interviews with prosecutors and defense lawyers, and a review of thousands of pages of court records.
These documents formed the basis of our investigation, published last month, which identified at least 319 NYPD employees who had committed offenses serious enough to merit firing but who were allowed to keep their jobs. Following that investigation, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio vowed to push the state legislature for reforms to Civil Rights Law Section 50-a, the law that cloaks disciplinary records in secrecy. The department, which is led by Commissioner James P. O’Neill, said it would begin releasing reports about disciplinary actions, with the offending officers' names removed. But last week a judge blocked that step, pending a hearing in June, in response to an emergency request filed by the city’s largest police union.
This database covers a wide range of offenses, from showing up late to work, to drunk driving, to holding a handcuffed prisoner down while another officer stomped on the person’s head. For those found guilty, the penalties range from a verbal reprimand, to the loss of vacation days, to removal from the force.
Using these documents, BuzzFeed News found that:
At least 250 employees faced accusations of using excessive force, threatening someone, getting into a fight, or firing their gun unnecessarily. Some faced only minor penalties. School safety agents Rufus Felder, Lydia Goodwin, and Timothy Wheeler, for example, each lost five vacation days after using excessive force against students. After striking someone on the head and threatening to kill two people, Detective Denise Rinaldi lost 20 vacation days.
NYPD rules say that, barring exceptional circumstances, officers who lie about a “material matter” must lose their jobs. But of the more than 100 employees in these files who were accused of lying on official reports, under oath, or during an internal affairs investigation, only a handful were fired, while others were docked anywhere from a few days to a month of vacation time. Officer Alexis Valdez, for example, lost 30 vacation days when he was found to have given false testimony to a grand jury.
Of at least two dozen officers accused of conducting illegal searches, three-quarters suffered only a verbal reprimand, the loss of a few vacation days, or a similar penalty. Officer Erlene Wiltshire lost five vacation days after the department found she conducted a strip search without her supervisor’s approval or a reasonable suspicion that the individual had concealed evidence under her clothes.
The department found at least 16 employees falsified records to collect overtime. Sgt. Ruben Duque, for example, submitted false overtime claims 93 times. He was put on probation, forfeited 30 vacation days, and ordered to pay back $6,000. Duque remains on the force today and collected over $50,000 in overtime pay in 2017, according to the latest New York City payroll data.
These documents cover a period during which the department was led by first Ray Kelly and then Bill Bratton, but they are not a complete record of disciplinary cases during these years. There may be additional cases, and some of these case descriptions may have been amended by the department at a later date. But these documents provide the broadest and deepest look yet at how the department has held its employees accountable.
Many officers told BuzzFeed News that the disciplinary system is unfair. Some said it lets guilty officers off the hook. Others said it punishes people for reporting misconduct or just for getting on their supervisors’ bad sides. For example, one officer told a supervisor that as a single mother, she needed a couple of days to arrange for child care before being assigned to a new post. She was charged with “failing to comply with an order” and was suspended for 122 days and forced to give up more than a month of pay.
"If 10 cops did the same exact thing that was bad, the outcome is different every time. If you’ve complained, forget about it,” Diane Davis, a former internal affairs investigator who later sued the department for racial discrimination, previously told BuzzFeed News. These records offer a chance for officers to determine what common punishments are and how any penalties they may have received stack up.
BuzzFeed News tried to reach out for comment to each NYPD employee named in this story by phone, letter, as well as requests to the department or their unions. Most did not respond. Lydia Goodwin, the former school safety officer who was charged with unnecessary force against a student, told BuzzFeed News that she was “unfairly accused” and the charges against her were “completely false.”
The largest police union, the Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association, threatened BuzzFeed News with legal action if the records were made public, warning BuzzFeed News that the release of this information would create “the perfect tool for unstable individuals with a grudge against cops to identify and go after police officers and their families.”
In response to concerns from the union and the department, BuzzFeed News partially redacted the tax ID number, a unique identifier for each officer that is not related to social security numbers or private tax information.
Peter Donald, an NYPD spokesperson, told BuzzFeed News, “The overwhelming majority of New York City cops come to work every day to do good, fight crime, and help people, making this City the safest it has been since the 1950s. For the few who commit violations, the NYPD’s disciplinary process is more rigorous today than ever before.”
Kevin Richardson, NYPD’s deputy commissioner of the Department Advocate’s Office, which determines which officers to charge and prosecute at the NYPD’s internal disciplinary trials, previously told BuzzFeed News that the department takes the obligation to police its own seriously. The disciplinary process is "a fairer process than it was." The department declined to offer any examples of penalties that have changed, or any data that would support his claims.
Are you an officer or NYPD employee who has been through the NYPD disciplinary system? Have you ever encountered one of these officers? If so, we’d love to hear about your experience. To learn how to reach us securely, go to tips.buzzfeed.com. You can also email us at firstname.lastname@example.org. ●