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Bill de Blasio

De Blasio Gives NYPD an “F” on Transparency

Image: Office of Public Advocate Bill de Blasio

Public Advocate Bill de Blasio has given NYPD an "F" for its record of withholding information from the public.

De Blasio's "Transparency Report Card" rates city agencies' response to freedom of information requests [PDF]. Looking at 10,000 FOIL requests over a three-month period in 2011, the report awards grades to 18 agencies "based on timeliness of response, requests left unanswered, and the ease of filing a request." The report includes a history of the New York State Freedom of Information Law, and outlines what information city agencies are obliged to provide to the public, and how they should do it.

The report found that NYPD had the highest number of unanswered FOIL requests; that 31 percent of requests never received a response; and that 28 percent of answered requests took more than 60 days to process. The report noted that NYPD provides a mailing address for FOILs, but "no clear way to follow-up or appeal after a request."

The report's findings jibe with the experiences of Streetsblog and others who have filed FOIL requests to obtain information on fatal traffic crashes. It takes a tremendous amount of persistence, if not legal action, to wrest the barest details from NYPD, even if the petitioner is related to the victim.

"When an agency fails to respond within the stipulated timeframe, such failure constitutes a denial," the report reads. "In these circumstances, an agency can be forced to comply through legal action -- an option beyond the capacity of many petitioners."

The report recommends a number of improvements to the FOIL process, including more oversight by the city, the publishing of more information online, establishing a centralized venue for filing requests, and assessing fines to city agencies for non-compliance. Such fines have resulted in greater compliance rates in Washington State and Illinois, the report says.

“The City is inviting waste and corruption by blocking information that belongs to the public," said de Blasio in a press release that accompanied the report. "We have to start holding government accountable when it refuses to turn over public records to citizens and taxpayers.”

Other than NYPD, the Housing Authority was the only agency to receive a failing grade.

Of the three agencies that received more than 1,000 requests during the study period -- DOT, NYPD, and the Department of Environmental Protection -- DOT was the only one to receive an overall "A" rating. The report found that 99 percent of all requests received a response, and that 90 percent of responses were provided in less than 60 days.

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