Police Disciplinary Records Face Spotlight in NYC’s Latest Reform Push

Screenshot from New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio’s press conference Wednesday, June 17.

MANHATTAN (CN) — Ramping up police reforms, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio announced a mandate Wednesday for the NYPD to disclose Internal Affairs Bureau decisions.

Acknowledging such reforms “literally would have been very hard to imagine just weeks ago,” de Blasio said the NYPD will now publish all decisions or settlements from its administrative trials, effective immediately.

“Now, we know for too long within the NYPD even when justice was served, it took a very, very long time, and that corroded trust in and of itself,” de Blasio said Wednesday. “The Internal Affairs Bureau charged with rooting out misdeeds of all kinds is given by law and by policy months and months to do investigations, years for any internal judicial process.”

There are approximately 1,100 pending cases for which charges against officers have been served. By mid-July, the department must make available information from all these cases, including the officers’ names, charges, hearing dates and resolutions, when available. 

Such information was previously shielded from public disclosure by the state civil rights law 50a, which the state erased from its books a week earlier, part a set of major accountability reforms responding to widespread and ongoing protests sparked by the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis.

Widely condemned for obscuring the records on the NYPD officer who killed Eric Garner in 2014, the law 50(a) required a court order for the public to access any personnel performance records of police officers, firefighters and correction officers.

With that law now repealed, de Blasio said the public will now be able to access police officers’ comprehensive disciplinary records in a transparent online database.

“All trial decisions now will be published, this was not allowable under 50a and now it will be, the details of the decisions coming out of each trial will be published,” de Blasio said Wednesday.

De Blasio also announced reforms to expedite the NYPD’s internal judicial proceedings by ordering that police commissioner police must make the immediate initial decision with 48 hours in cases where an officer would have their badge and gun will be taken away or be suspended fully. The reform also requires the NYPD’s Internal Affairs Bureau to complete its full investigation for immediate decisions about the disciplinary process within two weeks or less.

De Blasio shared the news a day after announcing the rollout of a similarly expanded policy of publishing of officers’ body camera footage on an expedited basis.

The mayor confirmed on Wednesday that the city will apply the new policy on bodycam footage retroactively, releasing all audio and video footage from older cases that fit the expanded criteria.

An NYPD spokesperson said the department is committed to developing an online data base of officers’ disciplinary records. “Work has already begun to develop an effective system,” the rep said in a statement Wednesday. “We will complete investigations and impose discipline as quickly possible.”

The Legal Aid Society had called on city leadership in a letter earlier in the week to make police officers’ case-level data accessible online through the NYC Open Data portal.

Screenshot from New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio’s press conference Wednesday.

Tina Luongo, attorney-in-charge of the Criminal Defense Practice at The Legal Aid Society, acknowledged de Blasio’s announcement on Wednesday as a “clear step forward” but affirmed that the legal aid provider would continue put pressure on the city for transparency and accountability of the police department.

“However, the devil is in the details, and we will monitor this process to ensure that any database is comprehensive, complete, and includes officers’ full histories of misconduct,” Luongo said in a statement Wednesday. “This news should not detract from the need for the city to reduce the NYPD’s headcount and budget by at least $1 billion, and to use those funds to invest in communities hardest hit by over-policing and Covid-19.”

In response to the mayor’s announcement, Pat Lynch, president of the Police Benevolent Association union, said de Blasio proved the union’s case about the dangers of repealing 50(a).

“By superseding the city’s FOIL process to release police officers’ records, Mayor de Blasio has shown that FOIL does absolutely nothing to ‘protect’ police officers,” Lynch said in a statement Wednesday, referring to the state’s Freedom of Information Law. “It allows employers to release whatever they want, whenever and however they want.”

In response to the repeal of 50(a) on Friday, MuckRock — a nonprofit collaborative news site teamed up with Long Island-based attorney Cory Morris and the Brechner Center for Freedom of Information — launched a campaign to send a barrage of Freedom of Information Law requests to every police department in the state to prevent the destruction of these records and demand the release of all disciplinary records.

Muckrock’s project editor Beryl Lipton said the state’s new sunshine laws may not ensure that all disciplinary records will make it to the public.

“Though police departments are generally expected to retain disciplinary records for at least three years, there are likely plenty of records outside of the retention schedule requirements, outside of common knowledge, that are now potential fodder for the shredder,” Lipton wrote on Tuesday. “In fact, that’s exactly what happened when California updated its transparency laws a few years ago.”

Screenshot from New York Governor Andrew Cuomo’s press conference Wednesday.

At a separate briefing in Albany, Cuomo issued an executive order recognizing Juneteenth as a holiday for state employees, in recognition of the official emancipation of African-Americans throughout the United States.

He said he would also push legislation to make Juneteenth an official state holiday next year. “It’s a day that is especially relevant in this moment in history,” Cuomo said. “Although slavery ended over 150 years ago, there has still been rampant, systemic discrimination and injustice in this state and this nation, and we have been working to enact real reforms to address these inequalities.”

Cuomo celebrated the state’s lowest reports to date since the pandemic began for Covid-related hospitalizations, infection rate and deaths.

Out of the 59,341 Covid-19 tests conducted in New York state on Tuesday, only 567, or less than 1%, were positive.

As of midnight Tuesday, 24,629 people were killed in New York state the novel coronavirus, according to state health data.

Both Cuomo and de Blasio said on Wednesday that New York City is on track to enter the second phase into of reopening on Monday, June 22.

Cuomo also announced that, after more than 100 days since the state began addressing the Covid-19 pandemic, he will be ending his daily televised briefings at the end of the week on Friday, June 19.

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