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NY lawmakers set to repeal police secrecy law — with help of LI Dems

ALBANY — All six Long Island Democratic state senators say they will support a landmark bill to end the secrecy of police disciplinary records, an initiative that gained traction following the death of George Floyd.

Sens. Todd Kaminsky (D-Long Beach), James Gaughran (D-Northport), John Brooks (D-Seaford), Kevin Thomas (D-Levittown), Anna Kaplan (D-North Hempstead) and Monica Martinez (D-Brentwood) will vote for the measure with the rest of the state Senate’s Democratic majority on Tuesday.

The measure is strongly supported in the Assembly, where Democrats hold a commanding 105-42 majority and by Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo, also a Democrat.

The bill would repeal “50-a,” a civil rights law enacted in 1976 that puts more restrictions on disclosure of the disciplinary records of law enforcement than other public employees. It is considered one of the three most restrictive statutes in the country in shielding police disciplinary records from the public. 

"I don't think it's an attack on police. It's bringing them in line with other municipal workers," Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie (D-Bronx) said at a news conference Monday. 

Police unions have long opposed making disciplinary records public. A group of eight police unions and lobbyists for law enforcement has said the release of the records could unfairly prejudice an investigation against a police officer, would damage an officer’s credibility and could be abused by those looking to harm an officer’s career or family.

Legislative Republicans also have long opposed repeal of 50-a.

“I’m not sure 50-a is going to solve the issues facing this country like institutional racism,” said Assembly Republican leader Will Barclay (R-Oswego). “We would be open to some reform of 50-a — it’s not a disaster — but we are concerned about releasing unsubstantiated claims … it does seem like a defense attorney’s dream.”

Support from the Island delegation is important but not mandatory in the Democratic-controlled State Senate, where the party has a 40-23 advantage. 

“This is a historic moment where I think our society fully realizes that transparency and accountability is more important than ever,” said Kaminsky, a former federal prosecutor. “That means disciplinary records should no longer be hidden and I hope that makes us have a stronger relationship between the police and the public and allows the people to have faith that police departments are handling their job in a fair and appropriate way and that police departments are putting their best people on the streets.”

 "This wipes out 45 years of bad court decisions," added Assemb. Daniel O'Donnell (D-Manhattan), a sponsor of the repeal, referring to rulings — most recently in 2018 by New York's top court — that have been viewed as making it even harder to obtain police records over the years.

Requests to obtain police discipline records would follow procedures in accordance with the state's Freedom of Information Law. Importantly, it would apply retroactively, applying to "any records that exist at the time of the request," according to Assembly officials.

The effort is part of a package of bills prompted by the death of Floyd, an African American, in a police confrontation in Minneapolis. Protesters nationwide call for stronger and more transparent disciplinary investigations and sanctions against police misconduct.

The “Long Island Six” include senators who are part of a more moderate wing of the progressive Democratic majority and are a target of Republicans in the November elections. The Long Island Democrats are more vulnerable to GOP challenges because the districts are more divided between Democrats and Republicans compared with districts represented by New York City Democrats, who are leading the effort.

“This decision was not an easy one to come by, but I believe in my heart it is the right one to make,” said Brooks. “I have the greatest respect for the men and women who serve in law enforcement and I have always provided support for them in all that they do. However, the action of those officers in Minneapolis was so egregious, the world community is now crying out for change."

Gaughran said. “I work on a regular basis with our police officers … the men and women I have always encountered work extremely hard for their communities and protect us every day,” he said. “But unfortunately, there are some officers that do not share these policies and views of the police officers I have been with dealing with. I think it’s a very few, but I think it's important to stand up and make sure we are protecting citizens.”

Both Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone and Nassau County Executive Laura Curran said they were supportive of reforming 50-a and watching to see what legislation emerges from Albany.

With Scott Eidler and Robert Brodsky.

State & Region