New York legislature votes to scrap police discipline secrecy law

Politics

Police Benevolent Association of the City of New York President Pat Lynch speaks as he and representatives from other New York City Police Department (NYPD) and law enforcement unions hold a news conference in New York City, U.S., June 9, 2020. REUTERS/Shannon Stapleton

NEW YORK (Reuters) – New York lawmakers voted on Tuesday to repeal a decades-old law that shields police officers’ disciplinary records from the public. New York Governor Andrew Cuomo has said he will sign the bill into law amid nationwide protests against police brutality.

The bill is part of a package of police reform measures advanced by the Democratic-controlled Assembly and Senate in Albany this week as protests gripped the nation following the death of George Floyd, a black man, as a white Minneapolis police officer knelt on his neck.

On Monday, the legislature voted to ban the use by police of chokeholds. The practice had come under intense condemnation when an African-American man, Eric Garner, died after a white New York City police officer used a chokehold on him during a 2014 arrest.

Advocates for police accountability have long been pushing for the repeal of the contentious section of New York’s Civil Rights Law, 50-a, that prevented disclosure to the public of disciplinary records of police officers.

“The legislation that will be passed over the coming days will help stop bad actors and send a clear message that brutality, racism, and unjustified killings will not be tolerated,” New York Senate majority leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins said in a statement.

New York police unions have called the legislation an attack on police.

“The message has been sent very clearly to police officers by our elected officials: We don’t like you,” Richard Wells, president of the statewide union the Police Conference of New York, told reporters. “We don’t respect you. We will not support you. We want you to go away.”

He said the repeal of 50-a would enable criminal defense attorneys to cite old complaints against an officer in court to undermine the officer’s testimony.

The New York City Council was also considering a bill to criminalize the use of chokeholds, which has widespread support among lawmakers but is opposed in its current form by the mayor.

Reporting by Maria Caspani; Additional reporting by Jonathan Allen; Editing by Chris Reese and Leslie Adler

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