New York lawmakers are taking action as civil unrest over police brutality against African-Americans takes over the nation.
The power move will ultimately repeal 50-a, a state law used by police departments to shield disciplinary records.
The Legislature which was led by Democrats approved the long-stalled reform of the statute. A regulation that is routinely used to keep the public from learning about police misconduct and disciplinary actions taken against officers.
Bill sponsor and Bronx based Democrat Sen. Jamaal Bailey, said “the silver lining on this incredibly dark cloud is that the sun is finally starting to shine on injustice. Maybe it’s unmistakable, and in my opinion indisputable, video evidence that we saw a live murder on TV, but it’s done something to the consciousness of America.”
He added, “I don’t know if there could be a more meaningful piece of legislation for me and this body because it’s way more than just policy.”
In 2014, the law became a point of contention following chokehold death of Eric Garner at the hands of then-NYPD officer Daniel Pantaleo, whose disciplinary record was protected in secrecy.
“Our criminal justice system, in order to build and maintain public trust, must be transparent,” said New Yorkers United for Justice chief strategist Khalil Cumberbatch. “Even more so as it relates to law enforcement agencies — and that means accountability and public scrutiny for police.”
As expected, local police unions have strongly argued against changing the law. A coalition of law enforcement groups said in a statement Monday that releasing records, including complaints, could leave officers facing “unavoidable and irreparable harm to reputation and livelihood.”
The legislation does, however, provide officers with some privacy protections, redacting home addresses, phone numbers, and email addresses.
“We, as professionals, are under assault,” Pat Lynch, the president of the Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association, representing rank-and-file NYPD officers, said during a press conference earlier Tuesday. “And this in a backdrop of a night when we had seven shootings (in Brooklyn) in seven minutes.”
The slate ultimately includes a bill making it a hate crime to call 911 to make a false claim based on a person’s race and another codifying into state law the state attorney general’s power to appoint a special prosecutor when someone is killed by police.
One of the key changes ban chokeholds under the “Eric Garner Act” and mandate police departments to provide medical training to officers. This comes post-Garner’s death after being put in a chokehold by cops on Staten Island in 2014.
Fan favorite, Gov. Cuomo has vowed to sign the legislation, calling Floyd’s death the “tipping point” of a change that has been “brewing for decades, if not centuries.”