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Why won’t the NYPD hand over documents related to anti-Semitic hate crimes?

The NYPD said on Monday that there were a total of 234 anti-Semitic hate crimes in New York City in 2019 — so many that on Sunday, 25,000 people gathered to protest anti-Semitism by walking across the Brooklyn Bridge.

Who are the perpetrators? What are their motivations? How are they being investigated?

We want to get those answers to you. But the NYPD won’t give them to us.

Since I started at the Forward in September, our organization has been in a protracted battle for records that are of special interest to the public and to readers of the Forward.

The Forward has been trying to get access to police reports, investigation files, body camera footage, surveillance videos, photographs and interview transcripts related to hate crimes in Brooklyn since September 4. Working with a legal fellow from the Reporters Committee For Freedom Of The Press, I have submitted a dozen individual requests. I have made appeals when those requests have been rejected.

In the interest of bargaining in good faith for these records, I narrowed down the original request to four specific forms over a period of only two years, only in the borough of Brooklyn, only for anti-Jewish hate crimes and only those crimes that include physical contact.

I felt confident, working with the Reporters Committee For Freedom Of The Press, that our requests were consistent with what we are entitled to under federal and state law.

The NYPD still rejected us.

“When disclosure of records is clearly within the public interest, agencies like the NYPD should use their discretion under FOIL [Freedom of Information Law] to release records that will inform the public about the operations of government,” said Gunita Singh, an attorney for the organization.

Yet the department claims in part that delivering the documents would “require an exhaustive search that would be extremely onerous and overly-burdensome.”

They say disclosure of the records would violate privacy, but the NYPD knows it is not required to withhold these records if the public interest in disclosure outweighs the concern for personal privacy, which it does in this case.

The NYPD also has the option to redact portions of the documents that are deemed sensitive. The law mandates that any “reasonably segregable portion of a record” be released even if other parts are exempt. The NYPD has not taken that option.

I have called the NYPD officer assigned to my requests, Detective Steven Halk, to figure out how to further narrow our search. Those calls have not been returned.

Meanwhile, violence against Jews continues.

We have exhausted our administrative options, so the Forward has reached out to different law firms who might take our case on, pro bono. We will be updating our readers in the coming months.

Our case is straightforward: These documents are created by public officials who are using public dollars to do their work. Our readers have a right to know what’s actually going on in the department, and how the police are handling anti-Semitic hatred.

For months, we have heard politicians and other public officials offer us thoughts, prayers and new initiatives. Those promises are useless if we can’t see how our system is working to fight hate crimes.

The NYPD should be serving the public, not hiding behind legalese and boilerplate rejection letters. This is your police department. These are your documents. And as anti-Semitic hate crimes continue, this information is more important than ever.

Molly Boigon is the investigative reporter at the Forward. Contact her at [email protected] or follow her on Twitter @MollyBoigon

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