Mayor Bill de Blasio today called for significant amendments to Section 50-a of the New York State Civil Rights Law to make disciplinary information about police officers and other uniformed personnel covered under this section of the law subject to disclosure.
Civil Rights Law Section 50-a, in existence since 1976, treats as confidential all personnel records of law enforcement and other uniformed personnel that are used to evaluate performance toward continued employment or promotion. Under this section of law, personnel records of law enforcement and other uniformed personnel may only be disclosed pursuant to a court order or with the express written consent of the employee to whom the records pertain. Several appellate court decisions have held that personnel records, including summaries of disciplinary actions taken against law enforcement and other uniformed personnel, cannot be disclosed because of the confidentiality protections under Civil Rights Law Section 50-a.
The de Blasio Administration, just like every administration that has preceded it, is constrained to follow State law and binding appellate court rulings, and to apply the law evenly in all circumstances regardless of who the covered employees are. However, the Administration strongly believes that the public interest in transparency and accountability for those in positions of public trust is not well-served by the law as it currently exists and, therefore, it will seek amendments to Civil Rights Law Section 50-a in the upcoming 2017 state legislative session.
“This Administration is committed to bringing greater transparency to the disciplinary records of law enforcement and other uniformed personnel. The public interest is disserved by State Civil Rights Law Section 50-a in its current, flawed form," said Mayor Bill de Blasio. "Today we are announcing a set of guiding principles that must shape the necessary amendments required to legally disclose the disciplinary records of law enforcement and other uniformed personnel. Without significant changes to this statute, the City remains barred from providing New Yorkers with the transparency we deserve. We hope advocates for greater transparency will join us in the effort to reform this State law.”
“I believe in transparency. I also believe that making information about disciplinary proceedings public will help us build trust with the community,” said NYPD Commissioner James P. O’Neill. “It is my hope we can work with the State legislature and the Governor on the proposed 50-a amendment.”
Zachary W. Carter, Corporation Counsel, said, “This legislative proposal provides a legal framework for keeping the public informed about the disciplinary process for police officers, particularly concerning their encounters with civilians. To the extent that current law does not permit transparency into the disciplinary process, it should be changed.”
Maya Wiley, Chair of the Civilian Complaint Review Board (CCRB), said, “Now more than ever, we must aggressively build stronger police and community relationships. To get there, the public needs to know that police officers are accountable for their actions. Building trust in our system of Civilian oversight of police complaints requires demonstrating that action is taken when complaints have been substantiated. This proposal is critical at a time when our nation is witnessing too many disturbing videos of police involved shootings and targeting of police officers simply because they wear the badge.”
Working closely with partners in state government, labor leaders and unions, clergy, advocacy groups and other key stakeholders, the Administration will craft proposed legislative language to accomplish the transparency and fairness to which the public is entitled. The legislation should:
- Remove confidentiality protections currently applicable to disciplinary records, including all cases prosecuted by the New York City Civilian Complaint Review Board (CCRB) in the trial room, thereby subjecting the full public record of the disciplinary proceeding and the results of such disciplinary proceeding to public disclosure. This would include final factual findings and disposition of any disciplinary measures imposed (or not imposed).
- In a litigation context, maintain current law restrictions on the use of covered personnel records in litigation which require a finding that records being disclosed are relevant to the specific case, but also adds that the judge must find that the records’ probative value outweigh the prejudicial harm of admitting them.
- Continue to allow permitted access for other governmental agencies, such as district attorneys and corporation counsels, in furtherance of a governmental function
If enacted, the legislation would result in the following items to be posted on the NYPD website pertaining to each case disposed of:
- Officer’s Name
- Charges Made
- Transcript and Exhibits of the Departmental Hearing
- Summary of the Decision of the Trial Judge
- Final Determination by the Police Commissioner
These cases would be posted online and no FOIL action would be required to access the above information. The cases posted would include both NYPD-initiated and CCRB prosecuted cases.