Despite a shield law, NYPD can access millions of sealed arrest records

The NYPD is alleged to have digitally stored 6.9 million records that should have never been viewed

An NYPD officer arrives for the funeral service of fallen NYPD Detective Brian Simonsen at the Church of St. Rosalie, February 20, 2019 in Hampton Bays, New York. (Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty Images)

It is illegal for the NYPD to access sealed police records, but a new report is alleging that this conduct has been taking place for years and that the department digitally archived 6.9 million records.

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In the last 40 years, it’s been against the law in New York for police to gain access to sealed records but that’s what’s been happening, the HuffPost reported Monday. The outlet obtained court documents that showed that the department has digitally stored 6.9. million records of more than 3.5 million New Yorkers.

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New York City Police gather at an active crime scene on 32nd Street (Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty Images)

These sealed records are generally those of suspects who were charged but not convicted. They include individuals who committed non-criminal acts, acts committed by people when they were minors, and the records of those who completed drug treatment programs.

They are sealed to prevent law enforcement from prejudging these individuals should a situation arise. In particular, the shield law was meant to prevent Blacks and other minorities from being harassed by police.

However, documents from a 2018 class-action lawsuit reveal that the private information has been liberally accessed by officers who can easily look up the sealed records on their smartphones.

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Police are seen outside of the Grand Hyatt hotel in Manhattan following the mistaken arrest of James Blake, a retired top-10 professional tennis player on September 10, 2015 in New York City. (Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images)

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NYPD’s “Crime Data Warehouse contained 6,908,699 sealed arrest reports containing the arrest information of 3,576,113 unique individuals, as of November 20, 2019,” the filing states.

Jenn Rolnick Borchetta, an attorney from Bronx Defenders, is defending the plaintiffs in the case. Borchetta said the alleged activity was “horrifying,” and that the NYPD was failing to follow the law they’re sworn to uphold.

“The NYPD is acting as if the law doesn’t apply to them,” she said.

Legal experts say this case will be hard for the NYPD to defend in court.

“The law is clear. Sealed is sealed,” Hermann Walz, a criminal justice professor at John Jay College and former prosecutor in Brooklyn and Queens, told HuffPost.

He added, “The black letter of the law seems to support the Bronx Defenders’ case.”

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In 2019, a judge ruled that NYPD officers must get a court order to obtain sealed records and to do so was without “without precedence.”

Mayor Bill DeBlasio and the NYPD declined to comment because the matter is currently under litigation and discovery. Plaintiffs are seeking more evidence from the NYPD.

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