The discovery made by freshman Ethan Finkelstein that shreds of highly classified police documents were used as confetti during last week’s Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade has prompted an internal investigation in the Nassau County Police Department and a review of how the department disposes of its documents.
Finkelstein, who is from Manhattan and attends the parade every year, was standing with his family at 65th St. and Central Park West when a strip of confetti paper landed on his friend’s coat.
“On the block we were standing on … someone was throwing all these white shreds of paper,” Finkelstein said. “It was everywhere, thousands of these pieces of paper.”
Finkelstein said that one of the pieces that landed on another parade-goer caught his eye.
“It said SSN, and there was a number on it,” he said. “We didn’t think much of it at first. We thought it was like a one in a million thing.”
They picked up more of the pieces of paper and found more Social Security numbers, license plate numbers, car descriptions, names of detectives in the Nassau County Police Department and the phrase “Romney motorcade.”
“We didn’t know what to make of it at all,” Finkelstein said.
Finkelstein and his family contacted a local New York television news station, WPIX-TV, about the strips in the hope of bringing to light the story of how such sensitive information ended up flying through the air at the Macy’s parade.
“We thought that maybe they would look into the story,” he said. WPIX reported Monday that the confetti came from a Nassau police employee who attended the parade as a spectator.
In a released statement, Nassau County Police Inspector Kenneth Lack said that the Nassau County Police Department is seriously concerned about the mistake.
“We will be conducting an investigation into this matter as well as reviewing our procedures for the disposing of sensitive documents,” he said.
The story has since been picked up by the national media, and Finkelstein has done interviews that have appeared on WPIX, CNN, local Fox News stations in New York and Boston, the national Fox show Fox and Friends, National Public Radio, the New York Post and Newsday, as well as his high school’s newspaper.
“It kind of just spiraled from [the WPIX interview],” he said.
Finkelstein spoke with representatives from the Nassau County Police Department before he came back to Tufts after Thanksgiving break and again this week on the phone.
“A detective called up to follow up on the investigation,” he said. “I think they’re also surprised about how much the story has blown up, too. It seems like it was really just a big mistake on someone’s part.”
Finkelstein believes that the mistake, while understandable, reflects poorly on the department’s handling of confidential documents.
“It was just someone not paying attention, but it also raises the question of … how police departments handle their sensitive information and whether they’re disposing of it correctly, which is why I think it’s important,” he said.