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Looking Up an NYPD Officer’s Discipline Record? Many Are There One Day, Gone the Next.

by Sergio Hernandez

ProPublica is a nonprofit newsroom th…

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In the summer of 2021, New York Police Department officer Willie Thompson had sex at least twice with a witness to a Harlem carjacking that he was investigating. When a prosecutor questioned Thompson about his relationship with the witness, Thompson first lied, denying the relationship, before recanting and confessing the next day, according to an internal discipline report. About a week later, the woman, sounding upset, called the prosecutor and said Thompson had cornered her at a bodega, blaming her for getting him in trouble and threatening that officers from the precinct would be coming to her home, the document shows.

Thompson, who declined to comment, was found guilty by the NYPD on two misconduct charges and was placed on probation.

But if you looked up his disciplinary history on the department’s public database of uniformed officers, you would be unlikely to learn that.

ProPublica has found the NYPD site for allowing the public to track officers’ misconduct is shockingly unreliable. Cases against officers frequently vanish from the site for days — sometimes weeks — at a time. The issue affects nearly all of the officers in the database, with discipline disappearing from the profiles of patrol officers all the way up to its most senior uniformed officer.

ProPublica examined more than 1,000 daily snapshots of the database’s contents and found that, since the fall of 2022, the number of discipline cases that appear in the database has fluctuated often and wildly. Try to pull up the record for a disciplined officer and the site sometimes spits back, “This officer does not have any applicable entries.”

Since May 2021, at least 88% of the disciplinary cases that once appeared in the data have gone missing at some point, though some were later restored. As of this week, 54% of cases that had at one point been in the system were missing.

“It is really disconcerting to see that there are records that are there one day that are not the next,” said Jennvine Wong, a supervising attorney with the Legal Aid Society’s Cop Accountability Project.

In the NYPD’s Officer Database, Discipline Records Frequently Vanish

A ProPublica analysis of more than 1,000 daily snapshots of the NYPD’s Office Profile database found that, since fall 2022, cases have repeatedly disappeared and the number of publicly accessible cases fluctuates often and wildly.

Source: ProPublica analysis of archived NYPD data. (Chart by Sergio Hernandez)

The NYPD did not respond to repeated requests for interviews or comment.

Because the department’s database is designed to show discipline only for active officers, some cases relating to former officers might have been removed from the data over time. Yet that would only explain a fraction of the missing cases. For most of the past year, at least a third of cases that had previously appeared in the database were missing.

These missing cases have included Chief of Department Jeffrey Maddrey, the force’s highest-ranking uniformed officer, and six deputy chiefs whose assignments include the department’s transit bureau and the Joint Terrorism Task Force.

The allegations against these high-ranking officers include being “discourteous” to a suspect, drinking while on duty, improper use of department property, and wrongful searches, frisks and uses of force.

In the chief of department’s case, Maddrey was docked 45 vacation days over a 2015 incident in which he impeded internal affairs officials who were investigating an altercation with an ex-lover and fellow officer. The incident ended with the officer brandishing a gun at Maddrey. When a reporter looked up Maddrey’s discipline record on Wednesday, the department’s system reported no disciplinary cases against him.

In interviews, several advocates for police reform and accountability said the issues raised by ProPublica’s analysis renewed their concerns about the NYPD’s competence, legal compliance and accountability.

“It just continues to undermine the public confidence in that they care at all about discipline and police accountability,” said Lupe Aguirre, a senior staff attorney at the New York Civil Liberties Union. “Their track record shows that they are both unwilling and unable to hold their officers accountable.”

While people across the country rallied against police brutality in the aftermath of George Floyd’s murder by Minneapolis officers in 2020, reform advocates in New York scored a major victory. Capitalizing on the groundswell of public demand for accountability, they pushed lawmakers to repeal a state statute that, for more than four decades, prohibited the release of personnel information about police officers.

Early the next year, the NYPD published a searchable database of its uniformed officers, allowing the public to look up cops and see their training histories, departmental awards and, for the first time, internal discipline records. In a department-wide memo, agency brass reportedly touted the move as a “step that increases transparency and improves accountability.”

Despite a 2012 local law that requires agencies to publish their data on the city’s open-data platform, the police department chose a vendor best known for selling “athlete management” software for sports teams to run the officer lookup system.

The source code of the officer profile website reveals it runs on software from RockDaisy, a New York-based software company. A blog post on its site, first published in 2017 and updated last year, says it has been licensed to several teams in the NFL, NHL and NBA and “the world’s largest police department,” an apparent reference to the NYPD.

RockDaisy’s founders did not respond to ProPublica’s inquiries about the company’s relationship with the police department. While RockDaisy does appear in a database of qualified vendors, a spokesperson for the city comptroller, which audits agency spending and reviews city contracts, said her office could not find any contracts with or payments to the company.

Aguirre and Wong, the Legal Aid Society attorney, cited the department’s habit of resisting oversight to argue that disclosure of officer misconduct data should not be entrusted to the department itself.

“It all should be up on [NYC] Open Data,” Wong said, referring to the citywide portal that publishes data from various agencies, including the NYPD, on everything from 311 calls and filming permits to a census of the city’s trees.

A schedule of upcoming releases shows that the NYPD’s officer profile data was supposed to be added to Open Data by the end of last year, but that still has not happened.

A spokesperson for the city’s chief technology officer, whose agency operates the Open Data platform, did not respond to ProPublica’s request for comment.

Adrienne Schmoeker, who led the city’s Open Data program from 2016 to 2019 and served as New York City’s deputy chief analytics officer under former Mayor Bill de Blasio, said it was not unusual for data releases to fall behind schedule. But failing to publish quality data reliably, she said, risks losing the public’s trust, especially when New Yorkers assume the worst: that agencies are hiding unflattering information.

“That’s extremely problematic, even if it’s wrong,” Schmoeker said, “because it erodes the trust that is essential between New Yorkers and their government.”

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This content originally appeared on Articles and Investigations - ProPublica and was authored by by Sergio Hernandez.

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