ALBANY — State lawmakers on Wednesday made permanent a special prosecutor’s office to investigate cases in which a person dies in an encounter with law enforcement, capping a package of police-oversight bills sparked by the death of George Floyd.
The Senate and Assembly approved a bill that codifies into law a special unit Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo had created by executive order in 2015. The unit is housed within the state attorney general’s office.
Both the executive order and the bill give the attorney general’s office the authority to investigate such cases instead of local district attorneys. Supporters said it’s necessary because district attorneys work with local police and, therefore, could face conflicts of interest.
“Creating the Office of Special Investigation will address conflicts of interest and foster public confidence that when civilians die as a result of an interaction with law enforcement, justice will be served,” said Assemb. N. Nick Perry (D-Brooklyn), a bill sponsor.
Republicans contended the measure unfairly takes away authority from locally elected prosecutors. They also questioned the necessity, noting the office has investigated 33 police-civilian cases since 2015 and produced two indictments and zero convictions.
“So, I don’t know that we’re really getting to the art of what is purported to be the purpose of the office,” Assemb. Edward Ra (R-Franklin Square) said.
Perry countered that the need for the office can’t be measured in prosecutions but by the degree it restores trust in such investigations.
The bill was approved largely along party lines in the Democratic-dominated Assembly and Senate.
Also Wednesday, lawmakers approved a bill to create a new “Law Enforcement Misconduct Investigative Office,” also within the attorney general’s office.
Other bills approved this week would make police disciplinary records subject to disclosure, outlaw chokeholds, establish a right to record police activity and order State Police to use body-worn cameras while on patrol.
Cuomo has said he’d sign all the bills.