On Monday, the NYPD launched an online public database containing profiles of its 35,000 active police officers.  By entering the name of an officer, anyone can see information about the following:

  • The officer’s current rank and history of service at other ranks,
  • Police Department recognition and awards,
  • Completion of training sessions,
  • Any disciplinary history,
  • Numbers of arrests made, and
  • Other documents.

In today’s Daily Critical Issues Report, Chuck Wexler interviews NYPD Assistant Chief Matthew Pontillo and Deputy Commissioner and Department Advocate Amy Litwin about the new database.


Chuck Wexler:  What prompted the NYPD to create this database?

NYPD Assistant Chief Matthew Pontillo:  I need to start with a little bit of background.  New York State, like most other states, had a police personnel records privacy statute that has been on the books since the 1970s. It shielded all personnel and all disciplinary records from public disclosure.

Ironically, department disciplinary trials are open to the public. So you could sit there and watch the whole trial. But then we couldn’t make public what happened or what the result was, because of the state law.

Also, for decades New York State and  the courts in New York State have generally been very pro-labor, not only regarding Police Department employees, but across labor generally. So when we have tried to be more proactive and release more information, we’ve been challenged in the courts, and the courts have usually sided with the unions.

So there was very little that we could say about disciplinary proceedings. And you can imagine how problematic that became, especially with some high-profile cases. A couple years ago, we commissioned an independent panel to look at discipline, and they had complete access to all disciplinary records and all of the people involved in a process. In 2019, they published a report, and the good news was that they found a disciplinary system that was generally robust and fair. However, because of state law, there was this lack of transparency.

The department had publicly stated for a long time, going back to Commissioner O’Neill and now Commissioner Shea, supporting repeal of that state law, protecting certain personnel records but making disciplinary records public.

In recent years, there was an increasing public demand for more transparency, but the urban myth that evolved was that because we didn’t talk about discipline, and could not reveal anything about discipline, that that meant there was no discipline in the NYPD and no accountability, which is certainly not the case.

All of that changed last June. At that time, we were preparing to begin releasing disciplinary records and outcomes, but the unions challenged the change in state law. And we just recently had a favorable ruling from the Second Circuit, that lifted the injunction and allows us to publish most of these records.

Wexler:  This must have been a Herculean job to put this together. It’s not just discipline records, it’s information about the training an officer has received, commendations, and much more.

Assistant Chief Pontillo:   Yes, that’s exactly it. We wanted to not just put up discipline records, out of context. We wanted to paint the full picture.  And we wanted to give the public, the press, or anybody who was interested a positive user interface, a positive experience when dealing with a website.

There were three major parts to discipline. There’s the officer profile report, and that’s for every active sworn member of the NYPD. If I retire tomorrow, my profile comes down. If you’re hired tomorrow, your profile goes up.  And then as events happen, it pulls data from the different data repositories where we capture training, and departmental recognition, and discipline, and it populates those fields. This is just the first stage; we’ll be adding more and more data.

The second piece is a trial decision library. If people opt for a department trial, or we don’t want to settle because of the severity of the offense, the trial decisions in their entirety are up. And it doesn’t matter whether you were found guilty, not guilty, or if you have since retired, because trials are open to the public. All those trial decisions are up, or will be going up on the website.

And then the final piece of it is the trial calendar. Going forward, you know who’s scheduled for a trial in the next month. Right now you see the names, and we’ll be adding the charges, as well.

Deputy Commissioner Amy LitwinIt was a lengthy process to prepare all of the data to go up on the website. We took a look at many years of information, and wanted to be sure that what we were posting didn’t reveal, for example, personal information in a case involving domestic violence. So we really had to cull through many years’ worth of data to ensure that people’s privacy was still protected, while reaching our goal of greater transparency.

We started with our initial timeframe from 2014 to 2020. And then we’ll be going back to 2010, because that’s as far back as our database goes. And we are posting charges, situations where uniformed members of service received charges for misconduct, and were found guilty or took a plea, and were determined to be guilty as a result. And it shows what the actual penalty was.

So again, the process was one in which we really had to manually go through years of cases to make sure that we were posting the information that was appropriate to post, but also making sure that it was as accurate as possible as to what the charges and specifications were, and what the ultimate penalty was.

Wexler:  If a community member makes a complaint and the officer is exonerated, does that go on the website?  

Deputy Commissioner LitwinNo, that does not go up on our on our database. It’s only situations where there was a finding of guilt. What you’re talking about is the investigative stage of a case, and later a determination is made as to whether the allegations are substantiated. Once the allegations are substantiated, then my office, the Department Advocate’s Office, gets involved, and we’re sort of the internal department prosecutors. We would take that case, we would serve charges on the respondent, and then ultimately either negotiate a settlement with the respondent or take the case to trial. And when there is a guilty determination, the Police Commissioner makes the ultimate decision about guilt and what the penalty is. On our dashboard, you would not see information that pertains to an allegation that was determined to be unsubstantiated.

Wexler:  Have you gotten feedback from the officers?

Assistant Chief Pontillo:   All through this process, we’ve been meeting with the unions, letting them know what’s occurring, and keeping them updated. We told them what was going out, exactly what the content included, what the timelines were. We also sent an email to every sworn member of the service, alerting them to what was going to happen.  We put it up on our internal network as well, and provided them with a link to the website, as well as an email address, so if they identify anything that is inaccurate, they can respond to this, click on this email address, and write in and say that something is factually incorrect.

Wexler:  What percentage of your officers have a finding of a disciplinary history?

Assistant Chief Pontillo:   A percentage is a tough thing to pin down, because of the size of the NYPD.  We attrite about 2,200 people a year. Last year it was over 3,000. And we hire another 2,000 or 2,500 a year.  So there’s a lot of turnover.  And some of these cases go on for quite some time. IAB begins an investigation, that runs its course, charges are served, there could be negotiations that are ongoing, scheduling a trial, having a trial. So it’s hard to find a comparable numerator and denominator to calculate a percentage.

But certainly the vast majority of police officers don’t have any disciplinary history or significant disciplinary history.  And for those who do, there are consequences. And in most of the cases, the person is rehabilitated, and comes back and never gets in trouble again.

Wexler:  We were intrigued by the fact that you show officers’ career history, their training, awards and commendations, how many arrests they have made, etc. Do you think this will provide a better perspective to the public?

Assistant Chief Pontillo:   I hope so.  I hope it begins to demystify the process.

Wexler: Is there any other department in the country that is doing what you just did?

Assistant Chief Pontillo:   I don’t think so. I haven’t seen anything to this level of detail and specificity.

Deputy Commissioner Litwin:   We talk a lot about sharing this information with the community, but it’s also important that we’re sharing it with the members of the department. So members have the assurance that when there is misconduct, it is addressed. This works to demystify the process for people who work in the department, who might not understand discipline, or don’t know the potential for consequences if there’s misconduct. It gives them a better sense of what could happen. I think a lot about prevention and how we can work to prevent misconduct. I think that all of these efforts work towards that goal as well.


The PERF Critical Issues Report is part of the Critical Issues in Policing project, supported by the Motorola Solutions Foundation.


PERF also is grateful to the Howard G. Buffett Foundation for supporting this work.