Mayor de Blasio Outlines Core Principles of Legislation to Make the Disciplinary Records of Law Enforcement and Other Uniformed Personnel Subject to Disclosure

October 14, 2016

NEW YORK––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.

Reverend Al Sharpton, Founder and President of National Action Network said, “50-a has represented the denial of justice for forty years in New York State. Mayor de Blasio’s core principles of reform bring the law into the 21st century by posting critical disciplinary information about uniformed officers online.”

Assembly Member Daniel O’Donnell, Chair of the Committee on Corrections, said “I have sponsored bill A09332, which would repeal section 50-a of the civil rights law, because I believe it is time for New York to be a leader in government transparency and accountability. If police records were accessible, it would give the public greater assurance that law enforcement is being held to the highest standards of accountability. The legislature and the public must work together to reform this statute to improve the public’s trust in law enforcement, and to ultimately improve safety. I am glad to have the support of my city colleagues, including Mayor de Blasio, in efforts to reform this statute.”

Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams said, "Transparency is a sensible and valuable public policy goal to be advanced at all levels of government. The transformation of our law enforcement and criminal justice apparatus needs to include greater disclosure of the disciplinary records of uniformed officers. The public deserves to know and trust that accountability exists for every individual who has abused their position."

State Senator Liz Krueger said, "It is clear that we need to improve public access to police personnel records. The public has an interest and a right to know, for example, whether personnel involved in the injury or killing of civilians have a pattern of misconduct. Police, like all public officials, must be held to high standards, both of conduct and transparency. I look forward to working with the Mayor and the NYPD to make necessary changes to the law so that we can continue to build community confidence in law enforcement."

State Senator Kevin Parker said, "I firmly stand behind Mayor Bill De Blasio's proposal to amend Civil Rights Law Section 50-a. In our efforts to continue to improve community relations between law enforcement and the communities they patrol, it is important that we create a system of transparency for constituents. The proposed legislation calls for additional information to be made public on the NYPD website, information that I feel should be available to the public and will hold officers accountable for their actions over the course of their career."

“Notwithstanding the complexity of this issue, and the extreme challenge we face in finding a solution that will retain the protection of the rights that this law is intended to preserve, Mayor de Blasio has been out front in voicing the importance of restoring the transparency that we must provide in law enforcement. This information released today provides a roadmap that will be substantially useful to the legislature as we work to resolves this very important matter,” said Assembly Member N. Nick Perry, Chair of the Black, Puerto Rican, Hispanic and Asian Legislative Caucus.

Assembly Member Luis Sepulveda said, “I commend Mayor de Blasio on his efforts to make government more transparent. Having the disciplinary records of Law Enforcement Officers made publicly available will help to ensure public confidence in law enforcement throughout the state who serve and protect us each and every day.”

“The vast majority of our police officers do a great job, for which we should all be grateful. But it is vital to all of us, including the police, that allegations of misconduct are fully and fairly handled. I hope the Legislature and the Governor join Mayor de Blasio in changing the law,” said Assembly Member Richard N. Gottfried.

“The right of privacy and the need for transparency must be balanced. The amendments proposed by the Mayor do just that. With transparency comes accountability and fairness,” said Assembly Member Jeffrey Dinowitz.

Assembly Member Daniel Quart said, “Governmental transparency is a core value of any democracy. 50-a prevents our law enforcement agencies from opening up their records to the taxpayers who are footing the bill. I applaud Mayor de Blasio for joining with Assembly and Senate Democrats in ensuring that New Yorkers know what law enforcement is doing in their name.”

“The Administration's proposed changes to 50-a would allow our City to return to disclosing information as it has done for the past 30 years, and is a common sense reform,” said Council Member Vanessa Gibson, Chair of Committee on Public Safety. “Technicalities should not get in the way of transparency as we work to build and improve relationships with uniformed members of service and communities across our City. This is a step of progress in the right direction, and I applaud Mayor de Blasio for his leadership and look forward to working with all stakeholders during this process.”

Council Member Ritchie Torres, co-Chair, of the Black Latino and Asian Caucus said, "The conflicting interpretations of Section 50-a of the New York State Civil Rights Law underscores the need for a new statute that expressly upholds the best traditions of open government. I share the core principles the Mayor has laid out for legislative review. The onus now falls on the State Legislature to amend Section 50-a so that those very principles are codified in the clearest possible terms. The public has a right to expect both clarity in the law and transparency in government, and the State has no good reason to stand in the way of either.”

"I applaud the Mayor's commitment to increasing transparency," said Council Member Stephen Levin. "It may not be easy for institutions to open themselves up to potential public scrutiny – but it is necessary. Especially when it relates to justice, a more open and accessible government restores the public's faith in the process."

"As a champion for justice, I commend Mayor de Blasio for taking these crucial steps to ensure transparency in cases regarding uniformed members of our great city," said Council Member Andy King. "Removing the need for FOIL requests demonstrates to New Yorkers that we, in government, aren't protecting those in uniform who may have wronged the trust of our community. This is a huge, positive move to regain the public's trust in our system."

Reverend Michael Walrond, Senior Pastor at First Corinthian Baptist Church and Chair of the Mayor’s Clergy Advisory Council, said, “You cannot have the community’s trust without transparency, and the Mayor’s proposed amendments to 50-a are a necessary step in the right direction. Advocacy on police reform should shift the State’s disclosure policy on disciplinary records, and I look forward to remaining engaged on this critical issue.”

Liz Gaynes, CEO of Osborne Association said, “The Osborne Association strongly supports efforts to reform Section 50-a of the New York Civil Rights Law to make disciplinary information about uniform officers – including police and correction officers – subject to disclosure and accessible online. We know that increased transparency and accountability leads to safer and more just law enforcement and corrections systems. The current shield not only fails to disclose histories that should warn us, it also undermines our confidence in the thousands of officers whose conduct has been exemplary. We are encouraged by the City’s leadership on this issue and urge the legislature to take up and pass legislation to amend Section 50-a.”

“As an organization of black lawyers, the Metropolitan Black Bar Association believes transparency is the key to gaining and keeping the public trust and strengthening ties to the community,” said Paula Edgar, President of the Metropolitan Black Bar Association. “We applaud this important step.”

“Making the disciplinary records of public servants open to the public will go a long way toward improving relations between the police and the community they serve. For the overwhelming majority of good and conscientious members of the police force, it will increase their respect; for the few ‘bad apples,’ it will help to identify those who need additional training or another job,” said Reverend Martha Overall, St. Ann’s Episcopal Church. “This legislation is long overdue particularly because of the practice of publicizing any negative aspects of the lives of victims of police misconduct. We look forward to working together for better police-community relations and an even better NYPD.”

“The Mayor’s proposed amendments to 50-a, well executed with transparency measures will help the community and lead us on the right path to restore trust. The Washington Heights CORNER Project would like to commend the de Blasio Administration in the proposed amendment,” said Hector R Mata, Associate Director of the Washington Heights Corner Project


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