According to Section 50-a of New York’s civil rights law, the disciplinary history of a police officer is “confidential and not subject to inspection or review.”
That means the taxpaying public has no right to know when those cops misbehave or whether they have been disciplined.
Section 50-a has to be amended.
On Long Island, we know more transparency is needed. Cops who have misbehaved or covered it up — including the unjustified shooting of an unarmed civilian by a drunken off-duty officer — have never had their disciplinary records made public, and there are hundreds of less extreme examples. Now an argument is playing out over 50-a in New York City.
In 2015, a state Supreme Court judge ordered the city to release information about past complaints against NYPD Officer Daniel Pantaleo that were substantiated by the city Civilian Complaint Review Board, and whether disciplinary action was recommended. Pantaleo is the officer who put an apparent chokehold on Eric Garner in 2014. The Staten Island man died, but a grand jury there declined to indict Pantaleo. The city settled a civil case with the Garner family for $5.9 million.
The judge ruled that 50-a did not apply to such a narrow request and pointed out that the CCRB had regularly given out such information in the past. Unfortunately, the city has appealed. And it’s just one area in which the city has recently restricted the information it gives out.
Last month, the NYPD also cited 50-a when it ended its long-standing practice of posting outcomes of certain personnel changes and retirements that included disciplinary actions. But as long as the NYPD shared this information, it apparently did not cause cops to be harassed, as police unions argue it would.
State legislators and Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo need to reform 50-a so the public has confidence that bad apples on the force are disciplined.
— The editorial board