Cuomo says he would sign legislation targeting police disciplinary records

May 30, 2020

Credit WMHT file photo

Gov. Andrew Cuomo said Saturday that he would sign a bill that “reforms” a section of state law that’s regularly used to shield police disciplinary records from public disclosure if members of the state Legislature reconvened in Albany to approve such a measure.

The statute, Civil Rights Law Section 50-a, is commonly used by local governments to block requests to view disciplinary records of police and correction officers.

"I would sign a bill today that would reform 50-a," Cuomo said.

New York Attorney General Letitia James, meanwhile, has been tasked with conducting an independent review of what happened Friday night in Brooklyn, where the New York City Police Department clashed with individuals protesting over the death of George Floyd.

Two state lawmakers -- Sen. Zellnor Myrie and Assemblywoman Diana Richardson -- were both hit with pepper spray at the protest, which Myrie said on Twitter they attended to “keep the peace.” Several protesters were also pepper-sprayed and arrested.

New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio has agreed to the independent review, and said Saturday that any police officers found to have acted without cause would be scrutinized.

"That's unacceptable and we need to understand exactly why that happened,” de Blasio said. “There needs to be accountability."

Myrie, ironically, is one of several Democrats who carry a bill that would repeal section 50-a of the Civil Rights Law altogether. Supporters of the measure have argued that disciplinary records should be available for review, like other public information.

But police unions have expressed concerns about repealing the law. They’ve argued that officers would be personally targeted by members of the public who have access to their records, which could reveal identifying information about them.

There’s also been legislation introduced to modify 50-a, rather than repeal it, but neither measure has won support from a majority of lawmakers.

There are no plans, currently, for lawmakers to return to Albany in the coming weeks. They left the state Capitol on Thursday after approving a package of bills aimed at providing relief to New Yorkers amid the COVID-19 crisis.

That could change; lawmakers have been told by Democrats who lead both chambers of the Legislature that they could reconvene at some point this year.

That could happen after the review is completed by James, who also supports the repeal of section 50-a. She made it part of her campaign when she was running for state attorney general two years ago.

Cuomo said Saturday that James would complete the review within the next 30 days. Her office, he said, will be looking at both the actions of police officers and protesters. Some protesters reportedly committed acts of violence, including the burning of an NYPD vehicle.

It’s possible that James will release a report with her findings, which her office routinely does when it investigates the deaths of civilians killed by police -- a task given to the attorney general’s office by Cuomo in recent years.