Capital News 5:10 p.m. | Apr. 21, 2015

I.G.: Better data needed on police lawsuits

By Azi Paybarah

Comptroller Scott Stringer

The city needs to do a better job coordinating data it collects about complaints and lawsuits filed against police officers, according to a new report released today from the inspector general for the New York Police Department, Philip Eure.

According to the report, better data-collection could lead to more retraining and eventually lower settlement claims paid by city taxpayers.

Data is currently collected by the NYPD, the city Law Department and city comptroller’s office, but the three offices do not share efficiently, according to Eure’s report.

The report from Eure—who was appointed to the job by D.O.I. commissioner Mark Peters, himself a mayoral appointee and close ally of the mayor—appears to fault the data collecting and sharing efforts by City Comptroller Scott Stringer, who has a tense relationship with the mayor. 

Stringer’s office unveiled ClaimStat last July, showing the geographical location of a wide arrange of lawsuits filed against the city. And in January, Stringer announced to attendees at breakfast hosted by the Association for a Better New York the launch of "the first-ever, real-time data sharing agreement with the NYPD. The department now gets claims data from our office through a dedicated portal, and we’re holding weekly conference calls between front-line attorneys at both agencies.."

In his report today, Eure wrote, "Recently, the Comptroller’s Office has begun to provide NYPD with access to its 'OAISIS' Notice of Claim database and has begun to meet regularly with the Department. However, the OAISIS database has limited data and functionality, and does not lend itself to efficient trend analysis without the manual inputting of information from individual Notice of Claim forms. The Law Department also provides NYPD with limited information about police-related litigation."

The NYPD "has had limited access to both the Comptroller and Law Department’s data, and cannot easily access information about when legal claims or lawsuits are filed against the NYPD or the resolution of these claims,” according to the report, echoing complaints made earlier by NYPD commissioner Bill Bratton, who said nuisance complaints are sometimes settled, despite the merits, without an officer even knowing a complaint was filed.

After a front-page story in the Post about a $5,000 payout made to complainant who swung a machete at police officers, de Blasio announced the Law Department would get $4.5 million in additional funds to hire 30 more officers to fight meritless lawsuits. (Patrick Lynch, president of the Patrolmen's Benevolent Association, said in a statement today that "many, if not most, of the lawsuits filed against NYC police officers are baseless" and that "[u]sing lawsuit data to review police performance will be meaningless.")

Eure recommended the NYPD, Law Department and comptroller collect data about the “rank, experience, precinct, and prior complaints” about the officer named as a defendant, the geographical location of the incident and more details about the nature of the complaint.

Eure also recommended the three offices assign staff specifically to share information.

In a statement, Stringer spokesman Eric Sumberg said, "Comptroller Stringer launched ClaimStat last year as a way to leverage data to improve government performance and save taxpayer dollars. Working closely with Commissioner Bratton and the NYPD, we’ve been able to drill down on claims information and spot problems before they become crises. We will continue to partner with the Law Department to improve accountability and transparency across all City agencies.”

There have been 15,000 lawsuits against the NYPD in the last five fiscal years, costing $202 million, according to Eure’s report.