The Forward has filed a lawsuit against the New York City Police Department, demanding access to public records related to anti-Semitic hate crimes.
The suit, filed in New York County Supreme Court on Tuesday, followed months of unsuccessful requests for the records under the New York State’s Freedom of Information Law. The NYPD “has improperly withheld all documents in response to the request under claimed statutory exemptions that do not apply,” the lawsuit claims, adding that the department’s actions “have caused, and continue to cause, immediate and irreparable harm to the rights guaranteed to petitioner and to the public at large.”
It is the first such lawsuit for public records in the modern history of the Forward, a nonprofit news organization founded in 1897 that covers the Jewish community.
The Forward is being represented by Joseph Aron, a New York lawyer who has filed dozens of FOIL cases, including three against the NYPD. Aron won one such case last year against the New York City Department of Education regarding allegations of religious discrimination against students and faculty.
The police records being sought concern the rise in anti-Semitic hate crimes in New York. The Forward has requested documents relating to the investigations of these incidents, and thus far has not been provided with any.
City officials have reported a total of 234 such incidents in New York in 2019, up 26% from the previous year.
“It’s hard to think of a more important story in the Jewish world today than the growing anti-Semitism we see on our streets, in our schools, and on social media,” said Forward editor-in-chief Jodi Rudoren. “We need these records to understand more about what is fueling these violent attacks, and to hold our public-officials accountable for how they are handling them.”
Rudoren wrote an editorial last month calling on elected officials — including New York’s mayor, governor, borough presidents and city council members, as well as the city’s new anti-Semitism czar — to pressure the police to comply with the Forward’s requests.
“This isn’t some journalistic exercise, this is a cornerstone of a functioning civic society,” the editorial stated. “We cannot work to fix society’s problems if we don’t understand them, and the swirling theories about what is underpinning this rising tide of hate are dangerously vague and unfounded. We need facts, data, detail, analysis, trend lines. Only then can our leaders start to really address the root problems.”
After its initial requests were repeatedly denied, the Forward narrowed its list of documents being sought to a set of four forms over a period of two years. These forms concern anti-Jewish hate crimes in the borough of Brooklyn that include physical contact. The requests for those forms were also denied.
The NYPD claimed it was exempted from providing the requested records, saying the documents would “require an exhaustive search that would be extremely onerous and overly-burdensome,” and would violate privacy. But the Forward’s legal petition claims that the department “failed to offer any specifics” and “failed to demonstrate how the purported exemptions even apply.”
In 2019, City Councilor Rory Lancman filed a successful FOIL lawsuit against the NYPD for data regarding arrests in New York City’s subway stations.
The NYPD did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Forward sues NYPD for anti-Semitic hate crimes records