New York lawmakers pass bill to make police records more transparent

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Wednesday, June 10, 2020
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Both the New York State Senate and Assembly approved the repeal of the law known as Section 50-a, which prevents the public from discovering an officer's disciplinary record.

NEW YORK (WABC) -- New York state lawmakers repealed a decades-old law Tuesday that has kept law enforcement officers' disciplinary records secret, spurred by the national uproar over the death of George Floyd.

The New York City Council public safety subcommittee met Tuesday to discuss legislation aimed at police reform as state officials took steps to promote transparency.

Both the New York State Senate and Assembly approved the repeal of the law known as Section 50-a on Tuesday, which prevents the public from discovering an officer's disciplinary record.

"All across the nation, there is a shared sense of anger and frustration over the death of yet another unarmed black man at the hands of law enforcement," said Speaker Carl Heastie. "We must provide greater transparency and accountability to the public in order for people to believe that the system is fair and just."

The measure to make officers' records and misconduct complaints public is among several police accountability bills racing through the state legislature. Others would provide all state troopers with body cameras and ensure that police officers provide medical and mental health attention to people in custody.

Many of those bills were first proposed years ago, but got new momentum after huge protests nationwide condemned police brutality.

The legislation heads to Gov. Cuomo next, who is expected to sign the bill.

The council is also expected to work with Mayor Bill de Blasio in the coming weeks on the city's new budget, as the mayor has vowed to redistribute some funding from the NYPD to youth and social services.

At the start of the hearing, City Council Speaker Corey Johnson said hiring nearly 1,300 officers in 2015 "was wrong" and called for "significant cuts to the NYPD budget and reinvesting that money in communities."

"Let's follow the lead of cities like Minneapolis," he said. "Let's re-envision and re-imagine what policing looks like in New York City and think of a new system."

The meeting comes after hundreds of current and former staff members with the New York City Mayor's Office called for meaningful police reforms Monday during a protest and march from City Hall in lower Manhattan to Cadman Plaza West in Brooklyn.

Demands from city workers for increased transparency and greater accountability when police officers are accused of excessive force echo the pleas in ongoing protests since the death of George Floyd in Minnesota.

Police unions have been quick to blast any potential reform.

"Once again, Mayor de Blasio and the NYPD brass are sacrificing cops to save their own skin," PBA President Pat Lynch said. "They created the failed strategy for managing these demonstrations. They sent police officers out to do the job with no support and no clear plan. They should be the ones facing this mob-rule justice. We will say it again: New York City police officers have been abandoned by our leadership. We are utterly alone in our efforts to protect our city."

At the hearing, NYPD First Deputy Commissioner Ben Tucker said the department can support the bill to criminalize chokeholds, but only with minor changes.

"The bill would criminalize any form of restraint that restricts the flow of air or the course of affecting or attempting to affect an arrest," he said. "The department can support this legislation with minor amendments. As you know, our patrol guide has prohibited use of chokeholds for decades...unequivocally and unambiguously prohibits pressure to the neck, throat or windpipe that may inhibit breathing."

Tucker told the committee that the NYPD insists that prosecutors must be able to prove the use of the chokehold was intentional, an issue at the heart of the Eric Garner case.

"The legislation does not require the officer intentionally uses a chokehold, rather it criminalizes incidental, unintentional contact with an individual's neck or chest," Tucker said. "It also appears the bill could criminalize the rendering of CPR with chest compressions or the Heimlich maneuver, although that is not the intent of the law."

Tucker proposed removing the word "diaphragm" and adding the word '"intentional." He also testified that no other department in the nation operates under such a high level of scrutiny or as many layers of oversight.

"As we have made clear time and time again, the department welcomes scrutiny and oversight because it has prompted us to review, and reflect upon, our policies and practices," he said. "Our job is by no means done. We in the policing profession know we can always improve, that we can always do better, that we must do better."

Tucker said intentionally covering up shields is "simply unacceptable," but that the NYPD could not support two other proposed laws on recording police and visible badges.

He said 354 officers have been injured in protests, along with 232 incidents of vandalism against NYPD vehicles since June 1.

The full City Council meets June 18.

On Sunday, Mayor Bill de Blasio announced several reforms including shifting funding from NYPD to youth and social services, reforming the 50-a law that prevents the public from discovering an officer's disciplinary record, moving vendor enforcement out of the NYPD to shift officers' focus on real drivers of crime rather than infractions, and establishing community ambassadors to act as liaisons between the NYPD and the public.

(The Associated Press contributed to this report.)


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