Bronx Crime Watch (Editorial): Clock Ticking on NYPD Freedom of Information Request for Neighborhood Crime Stats

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Editor's Note: This editorial appeared in last week's issue of the Norwood News. We will continue to display this counter (above) until the NYPD releases sector statistics for every Bronx police precinct.

Editorial: NYPD Hides Neighborhood Crime Stats

The NYPD has been proud to trumpet plummeting crime stats over the last 15 years or so. Citywide and precinct-wide crime stats are easy to come by. But when it comes to information about crime in your neighborhood or on your block, well, not so much.

A little history:

In early 2008, the Norwood News asked James Alles, then commander of the 52nd Precinct, for the previous year’s crime stats broken down broken down by the precinct’s 15 sectors.

No problem, Alles said, directing a lieutenant to print out the stats. It took all of two minutes.

The statistics allowed us to publish a map showing crime trends in specific neighborhoods, something residents have long sought. We received loads of positive feedback from readers.

“Although I feel safe in my neighborhood, evidently our autos are targets,” one reader said. “Is it possible to receive these reports on a sector basis each month? The overall report for the entire precinct does not really inform the public about their own neighborhood.”

Months later, we asked Alles about doing a follow-up piece. He smiled sheepishly and shook his head. He told us the published sector stats had landed him in hot water with NYPD brass and that we would have to go through the Deputy Commissioner for Public Information (DCPI) at police headquarters if we wanted more sector stats.

In December 2008, when we asked for the year’s sector stats, DCPI said we would have to file a formal Freedom of Information Law (FOIL) request. So, we FOILed. A month later (government agencies are required to respond within five business days of receiving the request) the NYPD wrote us saying they probably had the records but that it would take them three months to dig up the same information that it took the 52nd Precinct two minutes to produce.

By mid-March, three months after filing the request, we wrote an editorial saying the delay was unacceptable. The day the article was published, the NYPD called us and then faxed over the stats. It probably took them two minutes.

Now, here we are again, waiting on the NYPD.

Almost a year ago, on June 3, we sent a FOIL to the NYPD requesting 52nd Precinct sector stats. In a letter dated June 16, the NYPD Legal Bureau said we could expect a determination by Sept. 10. In October, after receiving no response, we decided to file another FOIL asking for sector stats for every Bronx precinct. Again, they responded, saying we should expect a determination in four months, by Feb. 15, 2011.

Since then, we have periodically called and left messages with the department’s legal bureau. We have not received a call back.
We are not the only ones the NYPD is avoiding. Last December, the New York Times and New York Civil Liberties Union sued the agency for consistently delaying or denying information it is required by law to disclose. “Information that was once released is now withheld,” said a lawyer for the Times Company. “Disclosures that could be made quickly are put on hold for months.”

All we’re asking for is information that will keep residents better informed and more able to help the NYPD keep our streets safer. We’ve waited long enough – 350 days since June 3 to be precise. We’ll keep tallying the days until the NYPD fulfills its duty to provide basic public information to the citizens it has sworn to protect.