Among the many reforms in the “Say Their Name” Agenda is the repeal of law 50-a, which allows for transparency of prior disciplinary records of law enforcement officers.
On the books since 1976, 50-a has played a significant role in recent police killings of unarmed Black men, most notably the 2014 killing of Eric Garner. His family tried to get discipline records of former NYPD Officer Daniel Pantaleo, the officer who killed Garner, but law 50-a prevented them from doing so. A city employee leaked the records. While not indicted by a grand jury, Pantaleo was later fired from the NYPD five years after Garner’s death.
State Sen. Jamaal Bailey, who chairs the Senate’s Codes Committee said that 50-a shields police disciplinary records from public scrutiny and helps ruin trust between police and communities.
“The lack of meaningful action taken after these incidents has caused the public’s trust of the state’s criminal justice system to waver,” Bailey said after the bill was signed. “This legislation was an important step in restoring that trust by ensuring proper investigation and by making sure that criminal prosecutions are undertaken when necessary, consistent with the crime committed, aiming to give families of those killed by the police confidence in a fair and impartial process in their pursuit for justice.”
In an interview with the AmNews , Bailey said that if the George Floyd police killing happened in New York with 50-a on the books, the public might not have even known the officer’s name nor the conduct complaints against him.
“It’s all about accountability and transparency and making sure that people are able to trust the members of law enforcement that police their streets,” Bailey said. “The vast majority of law enforcement officers are really good people who do a really good job. But much like in any profession, we need to make sure that we know the bad folks who are in any profession so that we can find a way to root them out and we can establish more trust.”
Prior to the repeal of 50-a anyone wanting to get disciplinary records about a law enforcement officer would have to submit a Freedom of Information Law (FOIL) request, however, the process was difficult. Now that 50-a is repealed, a FOIL request still has to be submitted and records would be available unless they are records that pertain to the officer’s personal or family matters.
Law enforcement unions have concerns about private information being made public of accused
officers making them and their families targets for threats.
“Just because you are a member of law enforcement you deserve the right to privacy like anybody else,” Bailey said. “You shouldn’t be harassed or annoyed and your family’s information should not be there and they should not be subject to harassment.”
Bailey added that while repealing 50-a is just one step to repairing the trust between police and the Black community, more needs to be done.
“No one piece of legislation will restore the public trust,” he said. “You have to have legislation and more importantly you have to have meaningful and difficult conversations. As a result of what happened to George Floyd, I think so many Americans who never had a desire to have that conversation were suddenly forced to have that conversation. It was clear, indisputable evidence in front of their eyes. These conversations needed to happen for a long time and it’s finally starting to happen.”