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The end of the year marks a dubious new beginning for a constitutionally protected freedom.
A free press is the first fortification of a free nation, but an NYPD directive this month cuffed reporters from handily accessing public information for their readers, for fear of compromising victim confidentiality.
Journalists at this newspaper have availed themselves — with conduct above reproach — to police records at Brooklyn police station houses for more than 30 years, scouring public files to compile the popular police blotters, and inform readers about lawless activity in their neighborhoods.
We do not publish names of victims, witnesses, or suspects, yet cops informed our reporters that a citywide mandate, which apparently was always on the books but not enforced until a few weeks ago, now requires them to file a Freedom of Information Law request. That relentless plod can take months to fork over any information, if at all, denying readers the full facts. Officials, oddly enough, wouldn’t say who delivered the decree and didn’t announce any breach of victims’ rights on a city reporter’s watch.
Authorities alternately suggested the media contact NYPD’s public information office — a maze on the best of days — or use CompStat, the agency’s monthly, crime statistics website that omits details about specific crimes, rendering an incomplete portrait of the circumstances. William Bratton, the incoming police commissioner, helped to pioneer CompStat, a data-driven management model whose “ruthless quest for numbers” forced flatfoots to produce certain crime stats each quarter or face discipline, according to Graham A. Rayman’s book “The NYPD Tapes: A Shocking Story of Cops, Cover-ups, and Courage.”
Amazon.com’s preview of the book royally fingers the agency for trashing victims’ rights more than any reporter could — or has.
“Cops in New York and everywhere else fudged the numbers, robbing actual crime victims of justice and sweeping countless innocents into the police net,” it states.
Of course the real mystery is why NYPD would wax compassion for victims just weeks before a new sheriff rides into town, after having allowed ink slingers unchecked access to their files for decades.
Mayor-elect DeBlasio has called out the police department for its lack of transparency, but his commitment to a free press will be on the line from day one — and the future of the humble, community police blotter will be his first litmus test,
©2013 Community Newspaper Group
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