Assembly Passes Legislation to Promote Transparency and Accountability for Law Enforcement

Speaker Carl Heastie today announced that the Assembly has passed legislation that would provide greater transparency of law enforcement conduct and promote trust between law enforcement and the public.

“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 Heastie. “We must provide greater transparency and accountability to the public in order for people to believe that the system is fair and just.”

“For far too long, a shroud of secrecy has sewed distrust between the public and law enforcement in their communities,” said Assemblymember Daniel O’Donnell. “Law enforcement officers are government employees and therefore the public has a right to know about disciplinary records and history. This legislation will deliver the transparency and accountability that people deserve.”

Today’s legislation repeals section 50-a of the New York State Civil Rights Law to provide much-needed transparency on police misconduct and discipline (A.10611, O’Donnell). Section 50-a of the New York State Civil Rights Law permits law enforcement officers to refuse disclosure of personnel records used to evaluate performance toward continued employment or promotion. The exemption was adopted in 1976 in order to prevent criminal defense lawyers from using such records in cross examination of police witnesses during criminal prosecutions. This narrow exemption has since been expanded in the courts to allow police departments to withhold from the public virtually any record that contains any information that could conceivably be used to evaluate the performance of a police officer, even when it is known misconduct has occurred. This evolution has defeated the Freedom of Information Law’s (FOIL) goal of accountability and transparency.

In addition to repealing section 50-a of the Civil Rights Law, the legislation would also make amendments to FOIL to establish new definitions related to the terms “law enforcement disciplinary record,” “law enforcement disciplinary proceeding,” “law enforcement agency,” and “technical infraction.”

When responding to a FOIL request a law enforcement agency would be required to redact from law enforcement disciplinary records:

  • medical history information of police officers, peace officers, firefighters and firefighter/paramedics, unless the records were obtained during the course of an agency’s investigation of the person’s misconduct and is relevant to the disposition of the investigation;
  • home addresses, personal phone numbers and email addresses of police officers, peace officers, firefighters and firefighter/paramedics or a family member or the complainant or another person in the disciplinary record;
  • social security numbers; and
  • the use of Employee Assistance Program, mental health services or substance abuse by police officers, peace officers, firefighters and firefighter/paramedics unless its use is mandated by a disciplinary proceeding that may otherwise be disclosed.

A law enforcement agency may also redact technical infractions from law enforcement disciplinary records. Technical infractions are minor rule violations by a person employed by a law enforcement agency as a police officer, peace officer, or firefighter or firefighter/paramedic, solely related to the enforcement of administrative departmental rules that do not involve interactions with members of the public, are not of public concern, and are not otherwise connected to such person’s investigative, enforcement, training, supervision or reporting responsibilities.