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New York Has Repealed A Law That Kept Police Disciplinary Records Secret

The move came as state and federal politicians face pressure from the public to find legislative solutions against police brutality following George Floyd's death.

Posted on June 12, 2020, at 12:12 p.m. ET

Anthony Behar / Sipa USA via AP

New members of the New York City Police Department.

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo on Friday signed a bill repealing a law that has been used to shield records of police misconduct from the public.

The move came as state and federal politicians face pressure from the public to find legislative solutions for police brutality following George Floyd's killing in police custody in Minneapolis. Officer Derek Chauvin, who was caught on video using a knee chokehold on Floyd, was charged with murder.

The bill was also passed at a time when law enforcement officers across the country, including in New York, have been caught on camera committing acts of violence against peaceful demonstrators protesting in response to Floyd's death.

"Police reform is long overdue, and Mr. Floyd's murder is just the most recent murder," Cuomo said before signing the bill Friday. "It's about being here before, many, many times. It's about a long list that's been all across this country that always makes the same point: injustice against minorities in America by the criminal justice system."

"Today is about 'enough is enough,'" he added.

The legislation passed Tuesday, after justice reform groups and activists fought for years to have the law, known as 50-a, repealed, arguing that by keeping an officer's personnel file secret, victims of police brutality would never know if the officer had been previously accused of excessive use of force.

The law gained widespread attention in 2014, after Eric Garner died while in a police chokehold. Last year Garner's mother, Gwen Carr, urged Cuomo to repeal the law, saying it "is harming me and my family."

Efforts to repeal the law repeatedly failed as police unions across the United States have fought for years against reforms meant to promote transparency and accountability in law enforcement.

“The silver lining on this incredibly dark cloud is that the sun is finally starting to shine on injustice. Maybe it’s the unmistakable, and in my opinion indisputable, video evidence that we saw a live murder on TV, but it’s done something to the consciousness of America,” the bill's sponsor Sen. Jamaal Bailey said before the bill passed the state Senate. “I don’t know if there could be a more meaningful piece of legislation for me and this body because it’s way more than just policy."

The bill, which passed the New York Senate by a vote of 40–22 on Tuesday afternoon, repeals the state's Civil Rights Law Section 50-a, which was enacted in 1976 in an effort to balance criminal attorneys' legitimate need for access to misconduct records with officers' need for privacy.

However, in recent years it had been interpreted in a way that allowed police departments to legally keep accusations and formal complaints of police misconduct secret.

In March 2018, BuzzFeed News obtained NYPD personnel files and discovered that from 2011 to 2015, at least 319 of the department's employees had kept their jobs after committing fireable offenses, such as being found guilty by a police tribunal of using excessive force, or lying on official reports and while under oath.

The NYPD revoked the public's access to these disciplinary records in 2016, saying they were protected under 50-a.

The package of police reform bills Cuomo signed into law Friday includes the banning police chokeholds that result in injury or death.



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