New York lawmakers have passed a bill to repeal a 40-year-old law that seals police disciplinary records, a move intended to provide greater accountability for officers.
The regulation, colloquially known as 50-a after the section of the state civil rights law it comes from, has been under increased scrutiny amid protests over the killing of George Floyd, an unarmed black man who died in Minneapolis police custody.
Opponents note that if such a law had been in place in Minneapolis, there would be no public record of the misconduct complaints against Derek Chauvin, the officer charged with murder in Floyd's death.
The New York State Assembly passed the measure 101-43 on Tuesday evening, hours after it passed the state Senate 40-22. Gov. Andrew CuomoAndrew CuomoBatya Ungar-Sargon discusses Cuomo brothers' delayed downfall Cuomo quits radio show to 'focus on what comes next' Cuomo's firing from CNN came amid allegation of sexual misconduct: report MORE (D) has said he will sign the measure. Assembly members observed a moment of silence for Floyd after passage.
Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie (D) touted the measure as “historic legislation to improve transparency in our criminal justice system and improve police and community relations.”
Today my colleagues and I stood for a moment of silence to honor the memory of George Floyd as we passed historic legislation to improve transparency in our criminal justice system and improve police and community relations. #Repeal50A https://t.co/3iENkBuZLQ— Carl E. Heastie (@CarlHeastie) June 10, 2020
Former Housing and Urban Development Secretary Julián Castro also hailed passage of the bill, tweeting, “Police are rarely held accountable for misconduct, and even when they are the public has limited knowledge. Repealing 50-a is a huge victory—and it’s owed to the protestors who took to the streets and refused to back down.”
Police are rarely held accountable for misconduct, and even when they are the public has limited knowledge.— Julián Castro (@JulianCastro) June 10, 2020
Repealing 50-a is a huge victory—and it’s owed to the protestors who took to the streets and refused to back down.
Let’s keep pushing. https://t.co/F58YhYjXos
“This is an enormous step forward for police accountability in New York State. At a time when New Yorkers have taken to the streets in the midst of a global pandemic to voice the need for police accountability and racial justice, this is a welcome development,” Rebecca Brown, policy director for the Innocence Project, said in a statement.
“It is our strong hope that now that the veil that had shielded police misconduct from public view has been lifted, countless injustices, including wrongful convictions, can be prevented,” she added. “This is only one ingredient of authentic accountability but it is the first, crucial step, in bringing some justice to a system that previously prevented it.”
Police unions, meanwhile, have vocally opposed repealing the law, with Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association President Patrick Lynch saying in 2019 that repeal efforts were “designed to once again demonize police officers, seemingly for political gain.”