New York, New York (November 20, 2023) – Today, the Committees on Technology, Public Safety, and Government Operations held a joint oversight hearing to address critical issues of the NYPD’s public transparency, specifically focusing on the NYPD’s recent decision to encrypt radio broadcasts, the press credentialing process, and archiving of government social media posts.

Chairs Jennifer Gutiérrez, Kamillah Hanks, and Sandra Ung and other members posed questions to NYPD’s Chief Ruben Beltran, who leads NYPD’s Information Technology Bureau, regarding the selection criteria for the radio encryption pilot in North Brooklyn, security concerns that prompted the pilot, evaluating its success, and the subsequent impacts on community organizations and the freedom of the press.  

The $390 million digital update to the 1986 analog system, slated for completion by December 2024, raised concerns for elected officials across the ideological spectrum about NYPD’s commitment to transparency. Council Members expressed concerns about timely press access to information, the relevance of arrest records and background checks in the press credentialing process, the disproportionate weight placed on bad actors relative to media access to police communications in regard to encryption, as well as the lack of clarity for access to 911 calls, and FOIL timelines. While Chief Beltran testified that members of the media were in a different category than criminal interlopers, he would not commit to creating access for the press until the evaluation of the pilot is complete. Public Advocate Jumaane Williams echoed transparency concerns shared by Council Member Robert Holden, noting their alignment on this issue, despite ideological differences.

Chief Beltran indicated that the pilot was launched due to burglaries and other crimes that were supported by the suspects’ use of NYPD’s open radio transmissions. Chief Beltran testified that North Brooklyn was specifically chosen for the pilot due to the area’s available fiber broadband infrastructure. Chief Beltran attributed a reduction in crime to the pilot in North Brooklyn, but did not provide specific data. Most major crimes have been decreasing in North Brooklyn year over year for the past decade. 

Council Members heard testimony from many members of the press corps, as well as Andrew Frame, the founder of the popular App ‘Citizen.’  

“I deeply believe in the urgency and importance of technological upgrades for City agencies, especially those doing life-saving work, but I’m concerned that this administration is once again introducing technology without due consideration to freedom of the press, the impact on communities, and the transparency that New Yorkers deserve,” said Council Member Jennifer Gutiérrez. “The NYPD’s testimony, that the agency is renowned for their transparency, was laughable, given that it is often the media is essential to providing this transparency and accountability. The approach to radio encryption, including requiring the evaluation to be complete, before creating access for the media, is nothing short of a stall tactic.” 

“While the NYPD cites legitimate concerns regarding the need to govern its radio transmissions to prevent potential misuse and security breaches, it is important to consider a delicate balance that ensures public safety, upholds the principle of transparency, and preserves the media’s access to timely information. Today’s hearing aimed to answer some of the questions. The responsibility I have as Public Safety Chair is to keep all New Yorkers safe and well-informed.” said Council Member Kamillah Hanks.