Push for Democrat-led Albany to back NYPD transparency
City officials hope Albany's new Democratic-led Legislature will change a decades-old Civil Service law that bars the release of an NYPD officer's disciplinary record — and keeps the public “in the dark about who is serving their community.”
“In a day and age in which we're talking about mending the wounds of the past, and bring police together with the community, we know the key to that is accountability,” City Councilman Donovan Richards (D-Queens) said in calling for a repeal of 50-a, a small section of the state's civil rights code that shields NYPD disciplinary records.
The law has been on the books since 1976, but the NYPD didn't begin following it until two years ago, conceding it had been violating 50-a for more than 40 years.
With Democrats set to control both the Assembly and state Senate, transparency advocates believe now's the time to change the law.
“We can no longer hide behind 50-a,” said Richards, who heads the Council's Public Safety Committee. “Without a repeal, without some legislation, the public is in the dark about who is serving their community.”
Both Police Commissioner James O'Neill and Mayor de Blasio have advocated for a change in the law, but their demands did little to move Albany legislators. Police unions throughout the state support the law.
Cynthia Conti-Cook, staff attorney with the special litigation unit at the Legal Aid Society, said the time is right for change.
“New York is now one of only two states that still blocks access to police disciplinary records,” she said. “If Mayor Bill de Blasio is sincere about police accountability and transparency, he must put the entire weight of his office behind seeing this repeal to fruition.”
Yet at a political conference in San Juan this weekend, 50-a was not on many legislators' minds.
Incoming Attorney General Letitia James — who made changing 50-a part of her election platform — said it would be a priority, along with other criminal justice reforms.
“I'm confident that we will see some version of 50-a passed in the state Senate and the state Assembly,” she said.