A bill in the Legislature to repeal a law used to keep police disciplinary records secret won Gov. Cuomo’s backing on Saturday when he promised to sign it as soon as it hits his desk.
Cuomo said supports repeal of Civil Rights Law 50-a, which New York cities and towns say prevents disclosure of personnel records of police, firefighters, correction officers and other uniformed officers.
“So the legislature can now convene by Zoom, or however they do it, pass the bill, and I’ll sign it today,” said Cuomo.
His comments came a day after police and protesters outraged at the death of George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis police clashed and several videos surfaced of cops shoving and attacking protesters.
The state’s 50-A law, which has been on the books for more than 40 years, applies to any "police officer, firefighter, firefighter/paramedic, correction officer or peace officer."
It says “[a]ll personnel records used to evaluate performance toward continued employment or promotion ... shall be considered confidential and not subject to inspection or review” without the permission of the uniformed officer involved.
In 2016 the NYPD began using the law as its reason for withholding information about disciplinary actions against its officers, reversing its decades-long practice of releasing the outcomes.
Civil liberties groups hailed Cuomo’s support of the repeal and demanded the Legislature move quickly on the bill. One version is now before the state Senate’s Codes Committee, and another is in the Assembly Governmental Operations Committee.
The Legal Aid Society — which has sued to have NYPD disciplinary records posted online — calls the law “Police Secrecy Law 50-a,” and says it "keeps the public in the dark about officer misconduct and the NYPD’s broken disciplinary system.”
“Now, more than ever, with police violence raging unchecked in cities across the country, New York must live up to its progressive ideals by ending police secrecy,” The Legal Aid Society said in a statement.
“Everyone must be disturbed by the videos that surfaced on social media of the NYPD using pepper spray and violently assaulting New Yorkers in Brooklyn last night," The Legal Aid Society said.
Under the current law, the public would never know what discipline was imposed of officers seen harming protesters.
Cuomo said he disagrees with New York City and other municipalities where officials read the 50-a law as banning release of disciplinary records.
“I think local elected officials across the state could release disciplinary records even with the existing 50-a law if they wanted to,” he said. "I think they don’t want to, so they say ‘I can’t.’”
Asked about Cuomo’s comments on 50-A, an NYPD spokeswoman said that the department has “long advocated for reforming the law.”
“Department executives have spoken publicly about the need for fairness and transparency in the law and have testified in Albany in support of an amendment to accomplish that," the spokeswoman said.
NYPD unions said Saturday that withholding disciplinary reports from the public would protect cops from retribution.
“Last night, we saw violent criminals targeting New York City police officers with bricks, brass knuckles and Molotov cocktails, for no reason other than the uniform we wear," Police Benevolent Association President Pat Lynch said in a statement.
“It is inconceivable that Governor Cuomo would want to arm those extremists with confidential police personnel records, so that they bring their weapons to our front doors,” said Lynch.
“We cannot protect New York if politicians won’t even provide the bare minimum protections for us and our families," he said.