Cuomo Backs Reform of NY's Police Secrecy Law
Our New York City police misconduct lawyers know how difficult it can be to receive police disciplinary records. Too often a police officer who engages in misconduct is shielded by the police department and prior acts which can establish a pattern of bad behavior such as withholding evidence that shows a person is innocent, excessive force, and fabrication of evidence. Our Westchester attorneys with experience in police misconduct cases, know how frustrating it can be to have bad officers protected by the system that is supposed to treat all people equally.
Section 50-A of New York's Civil Rights Law deals with Personnel records of police officers, firefighters and correction officers. The law’s protections also extend to correction officers and firefighters. Specifically, the law says “all personnel records used to evaluate performance toward continued employment or promotion” should be considered “confidential and not subject to inspection or review,” without written consent. The state law is used to keep secret the disciplinary records of police officers. Advocates have called for the repeal of the law, saying it prevents police accountability and halts the release of basic information, such as the disciplinary history of an officer. The underlying purpose of this law is to protect officer's personal information so that those involved in criminal activity do not know where they live and they cannot be targeted.
This week, the entire country erupted in protests, some of which turned violent after, George Floyd, a black man, died after a white Minneapolis police officer knelt on his neck for nine minutes. The incident was caught on video, which has since gone viral. Floyd’s death has revived national attention over the killing of black men by police, including the 2014 choke-hold death of Eric Garner. These incidents have again brought the public's attention of police brutality and excessive force.
Gov. Andrew Cuomo says he would support reform to a state law used to shield police disciplinary records from the public. The third-term governor said he believes local elected officials have the authority to release disciplinary records under the law, but they do not want to share the information. Cuomo further stated that he would sign the bill which reforms section 50a. The state law, known as 50-a for its spot in New York’s Civil Rights Law, is used to keep secret the disciplinary records of police officers.
The governor’s comments this weekend come in the backdrop of a nation gripped with protests over the killing of George Floyd in Minnesota. Some of the demonstrations have resulted in violent confrontations between police and protesters. “Allegations must be investigated by an independent outside agency,” Cuomo stated at a press conference in Albany.
The Legal Aid Society issued a statement on Saturday saying everyone should be disturbed by recent videos showing police “violently assaulting New Yorkers” and using pepper spray. “This egregious misconduct underscores the need for New York state to swiftly repeal Police Secrecy Law 50-a, which keeps the public in the dark about officer misconduct and the NYPD’s broken disciplinary system,” according to the statement. With the law in place, the group said the public will likely never find out what happens to the officers who were pepper spraying peaceful demonstrators.
One of the best points that Cuomo raised was the problem of the police investigating their own and District Attorneys, who work with these same police officers every day, making the decision whether or not to prosecute. Our New York police misconduct attorneys know how dismissive these prosecutors can be when asked to prosecute officers that they know and work with. Cuomo's call for the attorney general to handle police invesitgations and remove the privacy protection for police misconduct was a solid step forward. Our Manhattan police misconduct attorneys who have handled police misconduct cases all over New York State including New York City, Westchester, Rockland, Long Island and even upstate, know that all too often, when the Internal Affairs Department investigates a complaint, it is deemed, unsubstantiated, even when there is solid evidence of misconduct. Basically if there is any dispute in facts, where the police officer denies the wrongdoing, the investigators say it is unsubstantiated. This allows an officer to who is being sued, to claim that the records of prior misconduct should not be disclosed in the present case because they are not relevant, since he was exonerated, i.e, the accusation was unsubstantiated.
Another problem, which our civil rights attorneys in New York, have seen is that the officers who are investigating police misconduct accusations are essentially working with the County Attorneys who ultimately defend these cases and are more interested in trying to shoot holes in the civil case, than finding out the truth and punishing police officers that engage in misconduct. This often frustrates victims of police misconduct, when they realize that making the complaint will have no real impact, but is merely a shot at free discovery of their case by the other side and those who should be prosecuting the misconduct are more interested on making the victim out to be unbelievable and are dismissive of the victim's statements, but accept without question the officer's statements.
Our New York City lawyers who handle police brutality cases, believe that 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 and by enacting measures that ensure accountability. While Cuomo's statements were on point, the irony is that he is the Governor of New York and has been for several years, yet he has not attempted to make any change in this system. Only time will tell if his statements are sincere or if it is just talk.