In New York, and other places, police receive preferential shielding from public scrutiny and review:
The deaths of unarmed civilians like Eric Garner in New York City and Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo., led to demands for greater transparency in the workings of police forces all over the country. The need for more openness is especially pressing in New York, where a uniquely strict disclosure law has shielded from public view the records of individual officers, even those who have committed crimes.
In many states, including New York, it can be difficult for the public to even learn the names of officers involved in fatal shootings. New York City’s Police Department came forth quickly with the name of the officer who shot and killed 28-year-old Akai Gurley in the stairwell of a public housing apartment building in November. The officer, Peter Liang, was indicted on charges of second-degree manslaughter this week.
But such disclosures are unusual — and done at the department’s discretion. Indeed, under Section 50-a of the state civil rights code, New York exempts the police and other uniformed services from disclosure requirements that apply to other public employees….
The unjustified secrecy surrounding police records undermines public confidence in law enforcement as well as any effort to hold police departments accountable for misconduct. That point was underscored late last year in a report by the New York State Committee on Open Government, a unit within the Department of State that advises government, the public and the news media on freedom of information and privacy matters….