February 6, 2006

35 police officers sue NYPD to let WTC owner see their files

By SAMUEL MAULL Associated Press Writer

NEW YORK (AP) -- Thirty-five police officers who want to take higher-paying jobs with the Port Authority, the owner of the World Trade Center site, went to court Monday to try to force the police department to make their personnel records available.

Richard L. Steer, a lawyer for the 35 officers, says they passed the 2002 written test for the police force of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey and were chosen to undergo the rest of the agency's selection process.

However, the officers have been told their candidacies have been "deferred," Steer said, because background checks cannot be completed since the New York Police Department refuses to make their personnel files available to Port Authority police investigators.

In a hearing before state Supreme Court Justice Sheila Abdus-Salaam, Steer asked the judge to order the NYPD to release the files to PA investigators or to allow the officers to see their own files and show them to investigators.

Steer noted that officers are allowed to see their own files. He also said they have waived privacy rights so PA investigators could review them.

Steer asked the judge to issue an order quickly, saying some officers would turn 35 before being hired and would be ineligible for appointment to the police force of the Port Authority, the bi-state agency that runs area transit hubs, bridges and tunnels.

The petition Steer filed also asks for class action status so the ruling would affect all police officers who are in the same situation.

About 150 New York City police officers have applications pending with the PA police force, said Michael Murray, general counsel for the Patrolmen's Benevolent Association.

Cindy Switzer, an attorney from the city's law department, acknowledged that until 2003 the NYPD had provided personnel information when officers applied for jobs with other law enforcement agencies.

She said personnel files belong to the NYPD, not to individual officers. She added that the department had offered to release minimal file information to the PA, but Steer told the judge the PA had found that insufficient.

The judge told Switzer to return Wednesday afternoon with the NYPD's reply to the officers' petition.

NYPD Officer Richard Baboolal, 30, one of the petitioners, said after the hearing that he wants to join the PA police because he needs the money.

"I have three children, and my wife works," he said, "and we're living from check to check."

Baboolal, a six-year NYPD veteran, works in the 33rd Precinct, in northern Manhattan, and says he makes "in the low $60,000s." He said that with equivalent experience at the Port Authority he would be making $94,000 a year. He said he was willing to take a pay cut now to make considerably more later.

"I love my job," he said, "but I have to support my family."