NYCLU Concerned About Police Tech Policies, Transparency

Three cities in New York have drawn the attention of the New York Civil Liberties Union regarding a lack of policy around technology like predictive policing software and more general transparency.

by Kenneth C. Crowe II, Times Union / June 5, 2019

(TNS) — The Saratoga Springs, Schenectady and Troy police departments lack policies and data about the cases involving their officers, making it hard for the public to understand their operations, a New York Civil Liberties Union report says.

“It’s really alarming that not just in the Capital Region but really throughout the state that there are so many departments operating without rules in place,” said Michael Sisitzky, lead policy council at the NYCLU in New York City.

The Schenectady department’s use of policing software meant to predict where crimes may happen without having a written policy to govern the data fed into it to identify crime areas is an example, the report claims.

“One of our biggest concerns with predictive policing technology is it’s only as good as the data being put into these systems and algorithms. When you have bad or biased data going in it's going to lead to continuing disparities in terms of enforcement,” Sisitzky said.

The report, “Behind the Badge,” draws on information secured by Freedom of Information Law requests filed with 23 police departments around the state asking for information in 39 areas. Sisitzky and Melanie Trimble, chapter director of the Capital Region chapter of the NYCLU, said it was dismaying to see the data the departments couldn’t provide.

“The public deserves to know what rules our police must follow to be able to hold them accountable when they abuse their power, use excessive force, or make discriminatory stops or arrests,” Trimble said.

The Saratoga Springs, Schenectady and Troy police departments are included in Wednesday’s update of the report. Albany's department was in last year’s report.

Other areas reported on in Schenectady include the department heavily redacting information on its use-of-force policy; withholding information on types of weapons carried by officers; and the permissible range of use-of-force officers can use against someone. The report also noted there were 392 use-of-force reports from April 2013 to May 2015 but information on race and gender in the reports supplied to the NYCLU were redacted.

In Troy, the department did not provide demographic information on more than 90 percent of its use-of-force reports from 2012 to 2014. There were 71 misconduct investigations, between 2012 and 2015 in which 50 percent involved unauthorized use of force, the NYCLU report said.

Troy Deputy Chief Daniel DeWolf didn’t respond for a request for comment about the findings.

Trimble said her chapter had asked for a copy of Troy’s body-camera policy and was told there isn’t one. Troy is about to launch a pilot program for its patrol officers to wear the cameras.

“The Troy Police Department is lax in providing, creating and enforcing policies within the department,” Trimble said.

The report said Saratoga Springs provided no demographic information for any of the 11,511 people stopped between 2012 and 2014 and has no policies for interacting with people with disabilities or people with limited English skills.

Saratoga Springs Lt. Robert Jillson said his department would not comment without seeing the report and reviewing its conclusions.

Saratoga Springs provided information on 33 use-of-force reports between March 2012 and February 2015 in which 18 incidents resulted in injuries and there were no fatalities, the report said.

“Looking at Saratoga Springs use-of-force reports, they initially told us that the majority of their information was exempt from disclosure because it is used to evaluate officers so it’s exempt under Section 50-a,” Sisitzky said referring to the law that protects police officers’ personnel files from disclosure.

Sisitzky said departments are using this regulation more and more to apply to “any information departments don’t want to release.”

NYCLU is pushing the state Legislature for laws that will make police department data more accessible to the public.

“When we analyzed police department records across the state last year, we found that there were very few rules that police the police in New York State, and unfortunately our look into the Capital Region yielded the same results," Sisitzky said. "This is yet another indication to the legislature that laws like 50-a that allow the police to shield important information from the public, must be repealed."

NYCLU also is backing the Police-STAT Act that require access to police data for the public, policy makers and law enforcement officials.

The NYCLU report also found that the Saratoga Springs department is 85 percent male and 99 percent white, while the Troy department was 93 percent male with no women holding a rank higher than officer or detective. Schenectady did not respond to a request for information about its department’s composition, NYCLU officials said.

©2019 the Times Union (Albany, N.Y.). Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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