New bill threatens public release of police records


A new bill that quietly passed both the New York state Senate and Assembly could make it easier for police departments to withhold crucial public records again, The Post has learned.

If signed by Gov. Kathy Hochul, the bill would allow police departments to circumvent the repeal of the state secrecy law known as 50-a.

The new, broadly written legislation doesn’t go as far as reinstating 50-a, which blocked the disclosure of police misconduct records, but allows law enforcement to regain the upper hand in deciding which files the public should see. 

When 50-a was repealed after George Floyd was murdered by Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin, elected officials wanted to make police misconduct records more transparent and allow the public to have easier access to them. 

NY State Governor, Kathy Hochul
The new bill could soon land on Gov. Kathy Hochul’s desk.
James Messerschmidt

But in the immediate aftermath of 50-a’s repeal, police departments across the state found a new blanket excuse to exempt such records from disclosure — that releasing the files would impede an ongoing investigation. 

The excuse was used so frequently, the Legislature amended state law late last year to require a judge — an independent third party — to review the records and determine whether the release would actually interfere with an ongoing investigation.

The new bill that could soon land on Hochul’s desk would remove that judicial intervention, allowing police departments to hide public records until cases are wrapped up, which could take years. 

A protester holds a sign calling for the repeal of 50-A, a 44-year-old statute that insulates police disciplinary records from public scrutiny, during a march denouncing police brutality and systemic racism in the Brooklyn borough of New York City
The new legislation doesn’t go as far as reinstating 50-a, which blocked the disclosure of police misconduct records.
Scott Heins/Getty Images

“This is a disaster for [Freedom of Information Law] in New York state with police misconduct,” lawyer and journalist James Henry told The Post on Wednesday.

“This will kill live cases on appeal involving alleged police murders.”

He added, “Under the repeal, we are back to a situation where the police simply have to give no justification, just blanket denials for access to information. They can simply cite the existence of an ongoing investigation.”

 State Governor, Kathy Hochul
If signed by Hochul, the bill would allow police departments to circumvent the repeal of the state secrecy law known as 50-a.
James Messerschmidt

Even after the repeal of 50-a, Big Apple journalists have faced an uphill battle in getting full disciplinary records released from the NYPD. Currently, the agency only discloses records for what it deems “serious discipline.”

For instance, nearly two years after 50-a’s repeal, the NYPD has refused to release scores of disciplinary files on cops — despite a lawsuit filed by The Post.

The new bill passed the state Senate in January and the state Assembly on March 2. The Senate will need to send the bill to Hochul before it can be signed into law.



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