NEW YORK STATE ASSEMBLY MEMORANDUM IN SUPPORT OF LEGISLATION submitted in accordance with Assembly Rule III, Sec 1(f)
BILL NUMBER: A7611
TITLE OF BILL: An act to amend the civil rights law, in relation to
personnel records of police officers, firefighters and correction offi-
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.
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:
This act shall take effect 30 days after having become a law.