CRL 50-a; Support for Repeal and Urging Legislators to Address Police Transparency Measure When They Return to Albany
To restore public trust, police departments across the nation need to step up to discipline and remove bad actors. In New York, our elected leaders have the opportunity to take a concrete step towards that goal by repealing Civil Rights Law (CLR) 50-a in order to permit the public disclosure of police records relating to police misconduct. The New York City Bar Association urges the State Legislature to pass the measure – A.2513/S.3695, sponsored by Assembly Member Daniel O’Donnell and Senator Jamaal Bailey – when they return to Albany next week.
The original purpose of CRL 50-a was to prevent disclosure of “unverified and unsubstantiated” civilian complaints – not to prevent disclosure of substantiated civilian complaints. However, the death of Eric Garner – and the revelation that the police officer involved in the case had four prior substantiated complaints for abusive stops and searches – led to renewed focus on the law. In circumstances that echoed Mr. Garner’s death, the disclosure that the Minneapolis police officer who knelt on George Floyd’s neck for eight minutes and 46 seconds had 18 prior complaints filed against him has triggered renewed calls in New York to repeal CRL 50-a.
“CRL 50-a shields law enforcement officers’ personnel records from public view, severely limiting the extent to which officers can be held accountable for recurrent misconduct, allowing racist and abusive policing tactics to continue, and destroying public trust in law enforcement” said Zoey Chenitz, Chair of the City Bar’s Civil Rights Committee. “The time has come for the legislature to shine a light of transparency on our law enforcement agencies and, like all other professionals within our government, for police officers to be held accountable for their actions on the job.”
The City Bar urges the Legislature to repeal CRL 50-a for the following reasons:
- New York would join a number of other states in promoting transparency of police disciplinary systems. There is no evidence that this transparency endangers officers in those states or inhibits the administration of justice.
- Concerns of the law’s original sponsors over the privacy of police officers are adequately addressed through the privacy protections of FOIL.
- Judges are already charged with restraining lawyers from asking irrelevant, immaterial and abusive cross examination questions.
- Merely revising CRL 50-a will not address concerns that police departments will continue to seek, and courts will grant, broad interpretation of what types of records qualify as “personnel records” that can be protected from disclosure.
- Without the repeal of CRL 50-a, recent police reform efforts will be rendered wholly ineffective.
A just society cannot continue to tolerate the systematic mistreatment of, and violence perpetrated against, people of color. As City Bar President Sheila Boston said in a recent statement: “Those of us in the legal profession must rise up and lend our intellect, talent, creativity and problem-solving skills to solve this systemic and chronic injustice in our nation.”
The City Bar’s updated report can be read here: http://bit.ly/2rbbXGz