NYS Senate passes repeal of Section 50-a, which protects police records

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Protesters march June 6, 2020, in New York. Demonstrations continue across the U.S. in protest of racism and police brutality, sparked by the May 25 death of George Floyd in police custody in Minneapolis. (AP Photo/Ragan Clark)

ALBANY, N.Y. (NEWS10) — Following the death of George Floyd, the New York State Senate has passed S8496/A10611. This bill would repeal Section 50-a of the Civil Rights Law, a statute that deals with the way law enforcement disciplinary records are handled statewide.

Next, the repeal advances to the Assembly, which it must pass before ultimately heading to Gov. Andrew Cuomo for his signature.

The bill modifies the Public Officers Law so that disciplinary records of police, fire, and corrections officers are accountable, subject to transparent public disclosure via Freedom of Information requests.

Statewide street demonstrations and a massive, prolonged public outcry demanding police accountability have led to target 50-a, which critics say hides police misconduct and shields dangerous police officers from public scrutiny.

New York’s Committee on Open Government called for repealing the “loophole” back in 2014. In that committee’s 2018 report, it describes: The corrosive absence of transparency existing under 50-a undermines accountability, increases public skepticism, and foments distrust.”

Former New York City Police Commissioner James O’Neill wrote an op-ed titled “We Must Reform State Law Keeping Disciplinary Actions Secret” in early 2019, calling for reforming 50-a.

Also in 2019, the NYPD’s Assistant Deputy Commissioner Oleg Chernyavsky testified before the New York State Senate, saying, “lasting trust cannot be achieved without the application of a fair and transparent police discipline process” about Section 50-a.

Retired Albany Police Chief Brendan Cox also called for repeal in an Albany Times Union op-ed in early 2020:

“I once believed that 50-a protected good cops from frivolous and misleading questioning defense attorneys looking to do nothing more than mislead a jury about honest police work. Or, worse yet, muddy up a good cop’s name in the media. I know now that what 50-a actually does is lump the honest, hard-working police officers in with those officers who have betrayed the public trust by allowing their misconduct to be shielded by outdated legislation.” 

Brendan Cox
RETIRED ALBANY POLICE CHIEF

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