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Gov. Cuomo backs eventual change to NY secrecy law

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo, above in July at

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo, above in July at the Democratic National Convention, said Thursday that NYC officials must address concerns over NYPD transparency before any possible changes to state secrecy laws. Credit: Getty Images / Alex Wong

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo gingerly stuck a figurative toe in the water on the issue of NYPD secrecy Thursday, telling reporters he favors disclosure and transparency but the city must first decide what it wants to do about keeping police personnel records under wraps.

The issue of secrecy has percolated in recent weeks after the NYPD decided it wasn’t going to release certain records about police discipline it had routinely disclosed for decades. The department said Section 50-a of the Civil Rights Law requires confidentiality of the materials.

While Mayor Bill de Blasio has sided with the NYPD’s decision to keep the records secret, he also said he favored changing the state law to increase disclosure.

Cuomo Thursday signaled it might be time for that change.

“The state law, I think, should be examined, should be discussed and debated,” Cuomo said. “I understand there are two sides to the issue. I always err on the side of disclosure and transparency.”

But the governor then tossed the issue back to the city, recalling how the NYPD had disclosed the materials for decades and then decided in recent months not to do so.

“So, I think really it is a decision for New York City first as to what they want to do and then we can discuss the state law,” Cuomo said. “The law hasn’t changed.”

The statute at the heart of the controversy provides that personnel records of police and correction officers used to evaluate performance toward continued employment or promotion are confidential. For decades the NYPD permitted the news media to examine copies of disciplinary charges filed against officers and decisions about punishment. The public could also attend departmental trials.

In recent months, the NYPD took the position that the state law required those disciplinary records be kept secret. However, the public and the media can still attend any department trials.

The New York Civil Liberties Union had earlier filed a lawsuit over the issue of the law’s reach and won a favorable ruling from a trial judge. The city has appealed that decision.

With Emily Ngo

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