A07611 Summary:

COSPNSRQuart, Simon, Gottfried
Amd S50-a, Civ Rts L
Relates to personnel records of police officers, firefighters and correction officers.
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A07611 Actions:

05/20/2015referred to governmental operations
01/06/2016referred to governmental operations
05/23/2016reported referred to codes
06/06/2016reported referred to rules
06/08/2016rules report cal.163
06/08/2016ordered to third reading rules cal.163
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A07611 Memo:

submitted in accordance with Assembly Rule III, Sec 1(f)
SPONSOR: O'Donnell
  TITLE OF BILL: An act to amend the civil rights law, in relation to personnel records of police officers, firefighters and correction offi- cers   PURPOSE OR GENERAL IDEA OF BILL: This bill would increase transparency and accountability in law enforce- ment by narrowing the statutory exception that blocks access to police, firefighter and peace officer records.   SUMMARY OF SPECIFIC PROVISIONS: Civil Rights Law section 50-a, which this bill would amend, exempts police and certain other law enforcement personnel records from the ordinary rules of disclosure that the Freedom of Information Law (FOIL) applies to all other government agencies. This bill would narrow section 50-a by limiting it to personnel records created and used solely for the performance evaluation purposes laid out in section 50-a, thus overrid- ing case law that has applied section 50-a to any personnel records that might possibly be used to evaluate performance.   JUSTIFICATION: New York State is virtually unique in its refusal to apply the same level of transparency to police and other uniformed services as it applies to all other public employees. In its 2014 Annual Report, the NYS Committee on Open Government noted that the great majority of states treat police officer records the same way that they treat other public employee records. The Committee's review of all fifty states' laws also revealed that no other state provides the kind of the broad protection from disclosure that is afforded by Civil Rights Law section 50-a. FOIL itself contains exceptions from disclosure that protect the privacy and safety of individuals employed in uniformed services. There is also an exemption for information relating to ongoing criminal investi- gations. However, Civil Rights Law section 50-a, as it has been inter- preted by courts over the years, goes beyond the protection of legiti- mate and important privacy and safety concerns of officers. See discussion of the case law in the 2014 Annual Report. Indeed, 50-a's expansive application may well undermine the effective- ness of new efforts to increase police accountability. For example, there has been recent discussion of having police officers use "body- cams," video cameras that capture events involving law enforcement offi- cers. Under the current law, an agency could argue that all footage captured by "bodycams" could be used for evaluating the performance of these individuals. Therefore the 50-a exemption could be used to prevent any footage from being released to the public, thus defeating the purpose of using the bodycams. At a time when the public is calling for increased scrutiny of police actions for a variety of purposes, this bill would allow access to records held by police departments in a manner that is consistent with access to other government agency records.   PRIOR LEGISLATIVE HISTORY: New bill.   FISCAL IMPLICATIONS: None.   EFFECTIVE DATE: This act shall take effect 30 days after having become a law.
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