New York Legislature Votes To Repeal Law Shielding Police Disciplinary Records

The move is the latest policing reform to emerge in the U.S. as protests continue over the police killing of George Floyd.

New York lawmakers passed a bill Tuesday that will enable police officers’ disciplinary records to be made public, the latest policing reform to emerge as protests continue in response to the police killing of George Floyd.

The Democratic-led state legislature repealed 50-A, a statute activists have long criticized that allowed police to shield records of misconduct and disciplinary actions from the public. The decades-old legislation made personnel records of police officers, firefighters and corrections officers “confidential” and unreviewable unless mandated by court order.

The new bill makes police disciplinary records available to the public through freedom of information law requests.

“This is a historic win for New York and a long overdue change to the most restrictive police secrecy law in the country,” New York Civil Liberties Union Executive Director Donna Lieberman said in a statement, calling the repeal “a critical step toward justice for New Yorkers, especially Black and Brown New Yorkers who have historically been the main targets of police abuse.”

Floyd, who was Black, was killed on May 25 when a white police officer, Derek Chauvin, knelt on his neck as he pleaded, “I can’t breathe.” Protests that began the next day in Minneapolis, where Floyd was killed, have since spread across the country and the world, calling for systemic change to address racism and police brutality.

New York’s 50-A statute came under increased scrutiny after the police killing of Eric Garner in 2014, who repeated, “I can’t breathe” as an officer held him in a chokehold. The law was used to block officer Daniel Pantaleo’s disciplinary history from being made public.

Democratic Gov. Andrew Cuomo said Monday that he intends to sign the repeal of the law.

In response to anti-racism protests, many cities and states have been grappling with how to reform policing, particularly as activists call for the defunding of police departments.

In New York on Monday, lawmakers passed other reform legislation, including bills banning police chokeholds and assuring people’s right to record law enforcement activity.

In Minneapolis, city council members announced on Monday that they will “begin the process of ending” the city’s police department, seeking to instead invest in a “new transformative model for cultivating safety.” What such a model will look like in the city remains to be determined.

Ryan Reilly contributed reporting.

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