By Tim Cushing
More than 40 years after a law went on the books in New York allowing cops, firefighters, and corrections officers to have their disciplinary records hidden from the public, the NYPD suddenly decided to start following the law.
For years, the NYPD gave journalists access to “Personnel Orders,” which detailed the outcomes of closed internal investigations. They were posted on a clipboard in the NYPD’s public information office, making them as public as any record can be. In 2016, the NYPD suddenly decided it was no longer going to share these with the public, citing (I’m not even kidding) a need to “save paper.”
Another, less laughable explanation was later given by Deputy Chief Ed Mullen. The NYPD spokesman said someone in the PD’s legal bureau had re-read the 1976 law and realized the NYPD had no obligation to turn over this info to the public. So it stopped. (On the other hand, the NYPD is indebted to the public to the tune of hundreds of millions of dollars in lawsuit settlements every year, so maybe it would have made sense to let this four-decade oversight continue.)
The NYPD seized the moment four decades too late, further shielding its officers from accountability. This decision to stop being even slightly open about officer discipline followed a few high profile killings of citizens by officers — most notably Eric Garner, who was choked to death by a police officer during an arrest.
For almost a half-decade, city legislators have been trying to get the law — known simply as “50-a” — repealed. Some state officials, including Governor Andrew Cuomo and New York City mayor Bill de Blasio, have suggested they’re up for some limited reform, but neither of these two have expressed support for a repeal of the law.
It looks as though both officials will get the repeal they never really wanted. And if they want to thank anyone for this outcome, they can thank all the bad cops in America, starting with Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin.
The Democrat-led Legislature approved the long-stalled reform of the statute — which is routinely used to keep the public from learning about police misconduct and disciplinary actions taken against officers — in response to protests sparked by the death of George Floyd, a black Minnesota man who was killed when a white police officer kneeled on his neck for nearly nine minutes.[…]
The bill passed along party lines in the Senate, 40-22, with all Republicans voting against the measure. The Assembly approved the measure 101-43 Tuesday evening, also along party lines.
Governor Andrew Cuomo has already promised to sign the bill, which will erase 50-a from the books. That hasn’t made the state’s police unions very happy. Pat Lynch — president of the Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association — claims the release of records will endanger the lives of cops, even with personal information (address, phone numbers, etc.) redacted.
Then there’s this bizarre statement, which suggests a bunch of cops feel informing the public about misconduct is unfair to the brave men and women committing the misconduct.
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.”
Yeah. Like a public permanent record. Imagine being this obtuse about your job and your obligations to the public. Then imagine doing it while your fellow officers release tons of personal info about anyone ever booked into a jail… or extrajudicially killed by an officer. These are your nation’s law enforcement reps, ladies and gentleman. And in the face of incremental accountability improvements, they’re issuing statements so self-serving that those issuing them are blind to the inherent stupidity of their claims.