Advocacy Groups Call To Repeal New York State Law That Hides Police Misconduct

Supermajority Education Fund

January 13, 2020

Sixty-four civil rights groups, community organizations, and good government groups wrote a letter to New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) on Jan. 6 advocating for a statewide repeal of a provision in state law that allows for greater police secrecy in personnel records. The law, 50-a, says personnel records of police, fire, and corrections officers are confidential and can’t be shared with the public even when records mention police misconduct. 

“New York is arguably the worst in the nation when it comes to police secrecy,” they wrote in their January letter. “This weakens the public’s trust in government and harms those impacted by police violence and their families by denying them basic information regarding their respective cases.” The groups asked Cuomo to advocate for the law’s repeal in his annual state of the state address on Jan. 8, but he ultimately failed to.

Advocacy groups cite survivors of police brutality, including sexual violence, as beneficiaries of the law’s repeal. When New York City Council Speaker Corey Johnson (D) called for the full repeal of the law in May of last year, Kylynn Grier, policy manager at Girls for Gender Equity, pointed out in a statement that, “We know sexual violence is patterned behavior and that these acts are not isolated incidents.”

Others cite the case of Eric Garner, who, in 2014, was approached by NYPD police officers on suspicion of selling single cigarettes and was placed in a chokehold by an officer during an arrest. He lost consciousness and eventually died. The city refused to release the disciplinary records of the officer who put him in a chokehold, Daniel Pantaleo. In 2017, a source leaked the records to ThinkProgress, which showed Pantaleo had seven disciplinary complaints and 14 individual allegations brought against him. 

According to the New York Daily News, Police Benevolent Association President Patrick Lynch rebutted that repealing the law, “would give criminals and their activist allies a free pass to harass and demonize police officers in order to escape justice.”

Phil Stinson, a professor in the criminal justice program at Bowling Green State University, has studied sexual violence among police officers. “Over a 10-year period, there were 440 cases where officers were charged with forcible rape,” Stinson told Supermajority News. Without proper transparency and accountability, Stinson added, police officers who commit such acts don’t just infrequently face consequences for their actions at their places of work, but can resign and work at other agencies that aren’t aware of, nor concern themselves with, why the officer left. 

Stinson said he had seen cases where there were clear patterns of behavior over many years, where victims who likely did not know each other had “frightfully similar” stories of sexual harassment and sexual violence from the same police officers. Usually, police target victims who are in some way marginalized and may not be believed, such as women of color and undocumented women. 

 “It’s just like any other sex crime where it’s one of power and domination and violence,” Stinson said.