The outrage of Long Islanders and all the New Yorkers who have demonstrated against police brutality was heard in Albany. And the response has been swift and remarkable.
The State Legislature began moving forward on an extensive package of police-accountability bills on Monday, two weeks after the death of George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis police. Prior efforts to change laws that protected the disciplinary files of law enforcement officers had been stopped by the state’s police unions. But the peaceful street protests by throngs of New Yorkers of all races changed the minds if not political calculations of many lawmakers.
The State Senate and Assembly, both now controlled by Democrats, rolled out legislation that had languished for years on the desks of reform advocates. This includes:
- legislation that repeals the state law known as “50a,” which has been used to hide police misconduct. Law enforcement members have the right to keep their personal information private. But the public has a need to know the results of complaints filed against officers, from exonerations to dismissals.
- a measure that makes it a crime when an officer’s chokehold causes serious physical injury or death.
- a new Law Enforcement Misconduct Investigative Office under the state attorney general that would audit and review police departments, particularly important on Long Island where smaller departments often operate without scrutiny.
- a law that mandates the collection and dissemination of crucial demographic data of low-level offenses, the kind of enforcement that so often falls on communities of color.
- a requirement that law enforcement officers quickly make a report when they discharge their weapons in a situation in which a person could have been struck.
- body cameras for state police, and other measures, including the reiteration that a person who isn’t under arrest or in custody has the right to record police officers.
Those recordings have become critically important, as again and again egregious actions by police officers are caught on cellphones.
Videos of misconduct, chilling as they are, can only highlight the problem. Legislation like that on the way in Albany is what can start reforming policing.
The speed with which this fleet of bills is moving through the legislature to the desk of a governor who has indicated he will sign them makes it clear that we are in a moment of unprecedented opportunity. On Monday, Nassau County District Attorney Madeline Singas released a statement affirming “our commitment to do better.” Her letter indicates support for a local civilian oversight board to review complaints against officers and more structural initiatives like an increase of juror pay to expand the pool of those who serve.
Now is the time for those who have been passionately marching for days to keep up the dialogue with their elected representatives.
Changing policing for the better can provide momentum to get started on Long Island’s deeper inequalities. The work in Albany must be a sign that our democracy is functional and responsive, and ready to work for New Yorkers — an ongoing process.
— The editorial board