ALBANY – Following years of debate and calls for changes to a controversial law that shields police disciplinary records from the public, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo signed sweeping police reforms into law Friday.
The bills passed by the Senate and Assembly earlier this week repeal “50-a”, the 44-year-old statute in state Civil Rights Law that blocks public access to police officers’ disciplinary records, and create new units within the attorney general’s office to investigate police misconduct and probe fatal shootings by police.
Cuomo signed the bills during his daily coronavirus task force briefing, which was held in New York City on Friday.
Other bills passed by the Legislature require state troopers to wear body cameras, mandate that courts document race, ethnicity and sex data for arrests and court proceedings involving low-level offenses, and require a police officer who fires a gun to verbally notify a supervisor within six hours and file a written report within 48 hours.
Many of the reforms have stalled in Albany for years, but gained traction after weeks of protests against police brutality throughout New York and the country following the death of George Floyd, an unarmed black man who died after a Minneapolis police officer kneeled on his neck for nearly nine minutes.
The repeal of 50-a, which also protected the personnel records of corrections officers, firefighters and peace officers, includes new provisions in the state Freedom of Information Law under which officers’ private information, including home addresses and phone numbers, would be prohibited from public disclosure. It also would exempt “technical infractions,” such as a state trooper being disciplined for not wearing their Stetson during a traffic stop.
Advocates for the repeal have argued the statute has been used to shield police corruption and cover up civil rights violations. In many departments, civilian police review boards are not allowed to know the identity of the officers whose conduct they are reviewing, including whether an officer has been the target of multiple complaints.
Prior efforts to repeal the statute have failed to gain any momentum in the Legislature and Cuomo, in his third term as governor, has never offered his own bill to repeal the measure or directed State Police to release their personnel files.
Cuomo and other prominent state elected leaders denounced the Minneapolis officers’ actions, and called for efforts to reform not only law enforcement, but other sectors like housing and education, to address systemic and institutional racism.