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Editorial: Veto bill that could weaken police discipline

Nassau County police cars in Syosset on Dec.

Nassau County police cars in Syosset on Dec. 28, 2013. Credit: Jim Staubitser

For the fourth time since 2006, the State Legislature passed a bill that would let police unions demand collective bargaining to establish disciplinary procedures for their members. Now Andrew M. Cuomo needs to become the fourth governor to veto the law, joining George Pataki, Eliot Spitzer and David A. Patterson. Top cops need to be able to impose discipline in the ranks, and shouldn't be forced to let arbitrators take over such an important task.

Police unions want to overcome a 2006 State Court of Appeals decision that said local laws empowering police leaders to discipline their officers trump union contracts saying otherwise. Passage of the bill was via quiet, end-of-session votes that got no publicity until weeks later.

The bill passed overwhelmingly, with only two members in each chamber voting against. One of those was Assemb. Michael Fitzpatrick (R-St. James) and he deserves accolades. Insiders say most Senate and Assembly members voted for the measure because they trust Cuomo to veto it, allowing them to earn risk-free Brownie points.

In Suffolk, discipline is part of the bargaining process and the county legislature has never overridden that. But the bill would have a huge impact in Nassau County because it would supersede a county law that empowers the police commissioner to mete out discipline. Even with that power, it can be argued that the penalties leveled against out-of-line cops in Nassau have been slow and lax.

Rather than passing legislation to protect cops from discipline, lawmakers should amend state Civil Rights Law 50-a, which keeps all disciplinary action involving officers secret from the public. Departments need discipline imposed from the top to function properly. Residents deserve information about their departments. And lawmakers need to worry more about what's right and less about currying favor with powerful unions.