ALBANY, N.Y. — New York state lawmakers are expected to act on police reform bills this week, including a repeal of a law that shields police officers’ disciplinary records from public scrutiny.
Civil rights law 50-a has been on the books for 44 years, but the killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis and the protests that have followed have given the effort to repeal that law added momentum.
Last week, more than 80 organizations signed on to a letter demanding that state legislators pass a repeal bill that was introduced last year.
According to Katurah Topps, policy counsel at the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund and a member of Communities United for Police Reform, the signatories to that letter are not the only ones calling for action.
“It’s New Yorkers from every borough,” she stresses. “It’s communities all across the country and people from all over the world calling for a full repeal of this law.”
Gov. Andrew Cuomo has said he now supports repeal of 50-a and is calling for other measures to reduce police brutality and increase accountability.
Topps says a number of bills already have been introduced to reform reporting and data collection from police departments.
“Making sure that the public has an avenue to ensure so that when police officers misconduct themselves, they are fully held accountable, disciplined proportionately and it’s not a secret from the communities that they are going to be serving,” she explains.
Topps adds that the need for police reform has been amplified by numerous videos of police taking violent action against peaceful protesters since Floyd’s death.
Topps notes that the broad use of 50-a makes the transparency of police records in New York among the worst in the country and change is long overdue.
“Why would a public servant who is fully armed and has the power to arrest people, take their liberty away, why would those members of society be exempt from being completely transparent and accountable to the public?” she questions.
The governor also is calling for legislation to codify an executive order allowing the state Attorney General to investigate deaths during encounters with police.