A new effort by the New York City police department to provide officials with more information about the conduct of its officers is commendable in the wake of a growing degree of public mistrust.
But in the desire to identify and provide more information about rogue officers, the department must be careful not to go overboard and base their conclusions on information that isn't reliable or a legitimate measure of an officer's conduct.
The NYPD is taking a collaborative approach to the effort to monitor problem officers and potential misbehavior by creating a database that draws on numerous sources.
Among the sources of information that would be contained in the database are misconduct complaints, lawsuits, internal affairs investigations, information compiled by police-watchdog groups, and even information on an officer's traffic accidents and sick time.
The information would be used internally by the department to identify problem officers for evaluation, training and discipline, as well as to modify the department's officer training programs.
That's all commendable.
But while such information might make a good red flag, it might not exactly be reliable as a true measurement of an officer's overall conduct.
Anyone can bring a complaint against a police officer, and many people do. While some of those complaints are legitimate, others are filed as retribution to either embarrass or harass an officer. That's why complaints filed against police officers and correction officers aren't subject to the state's Freedom of Information Law.
The same logic applies to lawsuits. Anyone can file a lawsuit, and often suits are settled by municipal legal departments just to make them go away. The legitimacy of the claims should be determined by the courts before being used as evidence of a bad apple. Even internal reviews as a resource could be unreliable, especially if they ultimately fail to conclude an officer did anything wrong.
This type of initiative is needed to help assure the public that departments are responding to citizens' desire for more trust and accountability. But departments need to be cautious in what information they use to determine the fitness and conduct of a police officer.
If they're not, the approach could harm their officers and the public’s trust.