Mayor de Blasio’s administration today outlined a list of principles for legislation that would make disciplinary records of law enforcement officers subject to disclosure. His announcement came in response to the fact that, after decades of releasing disciplinary decisions of officers, the NYPD recently began claiming that Civil Rights Law Section 50-a allows it to keep those records secret. Section 50-a, enacted in 1976, prevents public release of officer personnel records. Former police commissioner Bill Bratton also publicly stated that he would use section 50-a to keep under wraps the outcome of any disciplinary case against the officer who fatally choked Eric Garner in 2014.
The following statement is attributable to New York Civil Liberties Union Associate Legal Director Christopher Dunn:
“The problem here is not with the law, it’s with the administration’s recent decision to interpret the law to withhold police records that had been public for decades. Going to the legislature is a dead end and completely unnecessary. If the administration is serious about police accountability, it will drop this proposal and just start releasing records, as it is entitled to do and long has done.”
The NYCLU is in the middle of litigating a Freedom of Information Law request that seeks ten years of NYPD judicial decisions relating to officers’ mistreatment of New Yorkers. A lower court ordered release of the decisions, but the city, relying on section 50-a, appealed. Last week, the NYCLU filed its brief opposing the city’s appeal, and oral argument will take place in November. The NYPD judicial decisions at issue in the case would be subject to disclosure under the de Blasio administration’s call to overhaul section 50-a.