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Opportunistic NYPD Leaks: Undermining Public Safety and Community Trust

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The New York City Police Department is a peculiar institution. The city agency appears to be maintaining its record of tasteless behavior, even as it comes under a public scrutiny that seems to intensify daily. Mayor Bloomberg and the NYPD are fighting to the last breath in federal court after a judge ruled their despised flagship program Stop, Question and Frisk, unconstitutional.

(The New York population is actually somewhat split on Stop and Frisk, with white people generally supporting it while black and Latin@ residents, who make up the vast majority of those victimized by illegal police harassment, less enthusiastic, but that is the subject requiring its own analysis.)

Most recently, on Thursday, the department leaked details of a sexual assault after a woman came forward to them during the course of a sensational murder investigation.

I wonder what the NYPD's thought process is here -- that spreading victims' private testimonies to the tabloids is going to help them solve crimes or bolster public safety? This apparently self-congratulatory gesture is perhaps meant to drum up public opinion against the suspect, but clearly will also provide a disincentive to those that might otherwise come forward. I certainly won't be willingly sharing any personal details with the department in the near future.

"New York's Finest" have an extensive track record of leaking confidential information and, in particular, sealed criminal records, whenever it might support them in the public eye. Notably, victims of police killings are frequently smeared by the NYPD, which provides the media with criminal and juvenile records (if any exist) that are supposed to be private by law. In the case of Kimani Gray, who was shot by two plain-clothes detectives on his way to Sweet 16 birthday party last winter, NYPD released his sealed juvenile record and claimed he was in a gang, accusations that were printed by most media outlets without scrutiny and disputed by Gray's mother.

At the time, Jevon Suralie, of the Caribbean-Guyana Institute for Democracy called the NYPD's actions "callous and disgraceful" in an interview with New York Carib News.

"The unlawful release of Kimani Gray's sealed juvenile record is an attempt by the NYPD to color public perception of yet another shooting of a Black male by white officers," he said.

Just down the block from where Kimani Gray was killed, a few months before, 22-year-old Shantel Davis was gunned down while pinned in her vehicle following a car crash by a detective, Phil Atkins, with a long history of civil rights violations and excessive force complaints.

Nevertheless, the NYPD, in its very first statement to the media, disclosed that Ms. Davis had an open criminal case -- never mind that she had never been convicted of a single crime or that this fact would not have been known by Atkins when he pulled the trigger. Again, the leak appeared to be used to bolster the credibility of a gunman with a long track record of violent behavior.

It is hard to imagine the Community-NYPD partnership that New York City mayoral frontrunner Bill de Blasio has been trumpeting in recent campaign stops, when the police share community member's private information whenever it benefits 1 Police Plaza.

Police Commissioner Ray Kelly continues to defend the department's wily-nilly surveillance of the city's entire Muslim population, which now amounts to nearly 750,000 people, never mind the fact that he has also acknowledged that these efforts have not produced a single credible law enforcement lead.

Of course not all leaks are supported by the NYPD brass, such as those by officer Adrian Schoolcraft documenting misconduct in Brooklyn's 81st Precinct.

Meanwhile local activists see a different role for the police. Harlem's Jazz Hayden says that there should not be a partnership between the police and the community, because the police are "our servants" and we are their masters. Taxpayers are being bullied by the people they employ, he says. Green Party candidate for City Council in District 7, Christina Gonzalez, has made ending police harassment of community members in her neighborhood a centerpiece of her campaign.

Nationwide police brutality and militarization has increased, and the October 22 Coalition to Stop Police Brutality, Repression and the Criminalization of a Generation is rallying in more than 50 cities across the nation for the 18th consecutive year.

Meanwhile, back at NYPD headquarters, British graffiti artist/prankster Banksy has apparently been named public enemy number one after spending the month in Gotham "vandalizing" such historical sites as the East Tremont McDonald's.

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