New York Police Agree to Take Public Records Requests by Email – New York Times

The department also agreed to accept Freedom of Information requests sent to a designated email address, accept follow-up correspondence sent to the same address, provide requested information by email, when possible, or compact disc, include in communications an email address for an appeals officer and handle appeals by email.

The department will also revise its website to include a list of records it maintains and links to the state Committee on Open Government website and relevant provisions of the state Public Officers Law, and will produce write a memorandum to “set forth procedures for receiving and responding” to Freedom of Information requests and appeals and providing electronic versions of records.

The department has already instituted one measure listed in the agreement, adding an email address for Freedom of Information requests to its website after settlement talks began, said Gideon O. Oliver, a lawyer for Mr. Stephan.

Mr. Oliver, in a statement with another lawyer for Mr. Stephan, Elena L. Cohen, said the settlement would ensure that public records are more accessible.

“We have an explicit agreement in the form of a judicial order, so if it is violated we can go back to the court,” the lawyers said. “We hope this will be a real tool for increased transparency.”

The Police Department did not respond to a request for comment. A spokesman for the city Law Department declined to comment.

There has long been a vigorous debate about how much control the Police Department exercises over information that could reveal its inner workings. Last year, after the Legal Aid Society made a Freedom of Information request for disciplinary records, police officials stopped making the information available to reporters, saying that state privacy law prohibited its distribution.

The Police Department also appealed a judge’s order to release a summary of misconduct findings against Daniel Pantaleo, the officer who used a chokehold during a 2014 encounter on Staten Island that resulted in the death of Eric Garner. In May, the New York Civil Liberties Union sued the department after it responded to a Freedom of Information request by saying it could “neither confirm nor deny the existence of records” related to the monitoring of protesters or interference with their phones.

Robert Freeman, the executive director of the Committee on Open Government, said he had received “numerous complaints” over the years about the Police Department refusing to accept information requests by email. He called the settlement a “significant step,” adding that it provided “recognition that the Freedom of Information law is important and a tool that can be used by anybody.”

Mr. Stephan made a request in 2014 for information on the sound cannons days after one was used during a protest in Midtown Manhattan over a grand jury’s decision not to indict Officer Pantaleo in Mr. Garner’s death. The Police Department eventually provided some pages from its Patrol Guide, but denied most of the request, Mr. Stephan said in his lawsuit. He responded by filing five administrative appeals in a year, repeating his initial request, challenging the decision to withhold information and saying that the department’s refusal to accept and respond to the request by email violated the law.

“FOIL is a mechanism the public can use to hold the N.Y.P.D. accountable to their own policies,” Mr. Stephan said in a telephone interview on Thursday, “We realized the police were not abiding by the Freedom of Information law as it stood.”

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