Contact: Hannah Ross (774) 279-7732

In Anticipation of Assembly Passage, Communities United for Police Reform Celebrates the Repeal of 50-a by New York State Legislature

New York, NY (June 9, 2020) – In anticipation of the New York State Assembly’s passage of the historic #Repeal50a bill, Communities United for Police Reform (CPR) and the Safer New York Act coalition that CPR leads are celebrating a milestone bringing New York one step closer to ending the era of police secrecy in New York state, through the repeal of NY’s police secrecy law, 50-a.

Today, the New York State legislature is expected to pass the historic #Repeal50a bill (S8496/A10611) after significant floor debates. It will then go to Governor Cuomo’s desk to be signed and become law.

The #Repeal50a bill is one of three Communities United for Police Reform bills that that the Albany legislature scheduled for vote this week. One of the other two bills (Police STAT Act (S1830C/A10609) was passed by the legislature yesterday. The third of CPR’s bills would strengthen and codify the office of special prosecutor to investigate cases where police kill individuals in New York state (A1601C/S2574C) is expected to be voted on tomorrow, Wednesday June 10, 2020. 

“Today's repeal of New York state's infamous police secrecy law 50-a, is an important step towards ending an era of special rights for police and the ability of police departments to hide patterns of brutality, sexual violence and other police abuses," said Communities United for Police Reform (CPR) spokesperson Carolyn Martinez-Class. “With the repeal of 50-a, New York has an opportunity to be amongst the most transparent states in the country when it comes to police misconduct and accountability. The public will no longer be blocked from seeing how prevalent police violence is, and what is or is not done in those cases. Now, Governor Cuomo must make good on his promise and immediately sign the bill into law. Our coalition has been leading this fight to repeal 50-a for years, with groups and families of those killed by police from across the state - and we won't stop until we end police violence in New York."

Members of CPR’s movement and the Safer NY Act coalition are available for comment to talk about the legislation, and will keep putting the pressure on until Governor Cuomo signs the bill into law. Additional quotes from bill sponsors and the coalition are at the end of this press release.

More information

The #Repeal50a bill (S8496/A10611) is part of Communities United for Police Reform’s #SaferNYAct package and is one of three bills scheduled for vote this week by the NYS legislature. The repeal of 50-a comes after four years of organizing and is only possible because of the commitment and organizing of CPR’s hundreds of member and partner organizations, groups from across the five boroughs who united to end abusive policing in New York – and groups in CPR's statewwide Safer New York Act coalition.

This legislation will fully repeal 50-a, which has made New York State the worst in the nation in terms of hiding law enforcement misconduct and discipline. 50-a is routinely used by those in power to shield police misconduct and failed police disciplinary processes from public view. The repeal of 50-a will provide much needed transparency on police misconduct and discipline in New York State, and help address the systemic lack of accountability for officers who engage in misconduct.

The #Repeal50a bill also includes 2 positive changes related to law enforcement misconduct in the public officers section of Freedom of Information Law (FOIL): 

1) Creates privacy protection for survivors of police violence, complainants, witnesses, and family members of those who have been killed or brutalized in relation to their personal contact information (e.g. address, telephone, email) and medical records . This makes the privacy protection of personal contact information and medical records for survivors, families and others equal to protection the law provides to officers.

  • In spite of what police unions and police departments have falsely claimed for years, the goal of repealing 50-a has never been to make addresses or phone numbers of police publicly available through release of police misconduct and discipline records.
  • In fact, separate from the 50-a statute, FOIL already provides police departments with the option of redacting that information, separate from the 50-a statute -- and police departments routinely redact this info in their responses to records requests.
  • However, the way police departments respond to FOIL requests doesn’t consistently protect personal privacy of survivors, complainants, witnesses and family members of those killed or brutalized. The #Repeal50a bill changes this to require law enforcement redact this personal privacy information for survivors, complainants, witnesses and family members of those who have been killed or brutalized.

2) Makes it harder for police depts to hide information about relevant administrative misconduct and discipline that is already permitted to be redacted in FOIL. 

  • In addition to repealing 50-a this bill shrinks the universe of administrative violations that law enforcement agencies are permitted to redact in FOIL requests to a very narrow definition of technical infractions exclusively related to the enforcement of administrative departmental rules that (a) do not involve interactions with members of the public, (b) are not of public concern, and (c) are not otherwise connected to a such person’s investigative, enforcement, training, supervision, or reporting responsibilities.  
  • The #Repeal50a bill makes clear that no matter how a dept classifies a particular misconduct act, it would not be permitted to redact this info if it involves interactions with members of the public, are of public concern, or are connected to policing responsibilities or training. (Using non-50a FOIL statutes, agencies routinely redact this type of information. The bill prevents them from redacting this info in instances relevant to police misconduct)

 OTHER QUOTES from Safer NY Act coalition and bill sponsors

“Repealing 50-a is a step in the right direction, but it is not mission accomplished. We’ve had to fight tooth and nail for half a decade to get here. Now, in addition to this hard won transparency, we must get justice for families who’ve been injured or lost loved ones, defund the police all over the state, and invest in real safety for our communities,” said Monifa Bandele on behalf of Malcolm X Grassroots Movement and the Movement for Black Lives.

“The repeal of 50-a was long overdue. Today we made monumental change in the State of New York. This is not a bill that is aimed against the police, it is a bill that increases transparency with the goal to improve community and police relations, and help regain trust in police,” said Senator Jamaal Bailey, Senate lead sponsor of the bill to repeal 50-a. “I would like to thank the families of victims, the advocates, and my colleagues in government for consistently and tirelessly advocating for this reform. Change is coming in New York, and I am proud that it is under the leadership of Majority Leader Andrea Stewart Cousins and Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie.”

Assembly Member Danny O’Donnell, lead sponsor of the Assembly bill to repeal 50-a said, “Today is a monumental day for justice. For too long, 50-a has shielded law enforcement officials from accountability when they commit wrongdoing. For too long, we have allowed 50-a to erode the trust between police officers and communities, particularly communities of color. Today, the New York State Legislature passed my bill repealing 50-a and opened a new chapter for New York State that increases trust, transparency, accountability, and safety for all. I thank the advocates, Senate Sponsor Bailey, Speaker Heastie, and members of the Black, Puerto Rican, Hispanic, and Asian Legislative Caucus for their support in passing this critical legislation.”

“We’re proud to serve amongst countless organizations who took to the streets and made the repeal of 50-a happen - not just this spring, but for years.  The repeal of 50-a is a first step toward protecting girls of color who are sexually harassed, assaulted and abused by police,” said Ashley C. Sawyer, Director of Policy at Girls for Gender Equity (GGE). “The passage of 50-a is an important first step, and we appreciate the legislature for finally stepping up and saying yes to police accountability. Our work for real community safety for New Yorkers of color, is far from over. We look forward to continued courage from our State Legislators and Governor to, at absolute minimum, affirm Black life.”  

"We think of Eric Garner today, as we celebrate the passage of the repeal of 50-a. We know that the full repeal of 50-a will expose the Daniel Pantaleos of the NYPD,” said Adilka Pimentel, Lead Organizer at Make the Road New York. “This is a critical step toward making systems of policing more transparent and accountable to the communities they are supposed to serve."

"Today's votes by the Senate and Assembly to pass 50-a repeal legislation constitute a historic victory that the families who've lost loved ones to the police in the Justice Committee have been fighting for, for years,” said Loyda Colon, Co-Director of the Justice Committee. “Thanks to the leadership of the families, all of the organizations in Communities United for Police Reform and the Safer NY Act coalition, and all those who have been rising up in the streets in recent weeks, we are tearing down the wall of secrecy that the NYPD, Mayor de Blasio and police departments across the state use to protect abusive officers and commands. We now call on Governor Cuomo to sign this bill into law immediately."

“This is one step for transparency the families of loved ones lost to police murders have asked for years,” said Will Depoo, Community Organizer at DRUM - Desis Rising Up & Moving. “Repealing 50-a gives more power to Black and Brown community members when stopped by police; there isn't a law to hide police violence. While this is a great victory, we must continue the fight to reduce police power, including defunding police departments and investing in working class Black and Brown communities.”

"We are in a tragic situation, but we must connect and make clear that repealing 50-a is good, but it's not the only thing we need to make sure no cop in New York State abuses or assassinates another human being unjustified,” said Roger Clark, Community Leader at VOCAL-NY. “We also need to make sure that no one goes to jail based on police lies and that anyone already in jail on police lies should have that conviction reversed. We need more criminal justice legislation as well."

“For decades, 50-a has meant that New York's law enforcement officers can cower behind legal loopholes to hide their histories of abuse from the public. Repealing 50-a will ensure that NYPD officers can be held to account for their abuses, and is an essential step to creating a fairer, more just New York,” said Marwa Janini, Executive Director of the Arab American Association of New York.

“Jews For Racial & Economic Justice demands the swift signature of (S8496/A10611) the #Repeal50A bill. Within our own community, Jews of Color have led Jews of every background, and from across New York State, in calling for the repeal of this heinous law. The obligation to admonish our brothers and sisters when they do wrong is sacred to our Jewish tradition. “Rebuke, yes, rebuke your brother lest you carry his sin.” (Leviticus 19:17) The NYPD has shown itself incapable of admonition, discipline or correction when it comes to crimes committed by officers and bears responsibility for those crimes. We stand firmly in opposition to any attempts to water down these reforms — full repeal of 50-a is an important step in bringing the NYPD into compliance with the values of our democracy which demand a transparent institution that can be held publicly accountable for its mistakes,” said Leo Ferguson, Movement Building Organizer at Jews for Racial and Economic Justice. 

“The time is up for transforming New York’s policing and ending secrecy around abuses at the hands of law enforcement. As mass protests gather strength across the country in response to police violence and systematic racism, we share the grief, outrage, and demand for accountability and justice,” said Kassandra Frederique, Managing Director of Policy Advocacy and Campaigns at the Drug Policy Alliance. “For years we have supported critical legislation repealing 50-a, which will increase transparency on police misconduct, and join with our allies in applauding the bill's passage today by the Legislature and urge Governor Cuomo to swiftly sign 50-a repeal into law, as he has pledged. As we continue to work to end the racist drug war, we know our work is not possible without demanding justice for Black and Latinx lives and an end to police violence.”

“New York’s Civil Rights Law 50-a corrodes community trust in law enforcement and endangers public safety. Latinx, Black, and other communities of color have been disproportionally over-policed and brutalized by police departments across the state and a blanket concealment of police disciplinary records prioritizes state-sanctioned secrecy over the protection of vulnerable New Yorkers. LatinoJustice PRLDEF calls for the immediate passing of State Senator Bailey and Assembly Member O’Donnell’s bills (S3695/A2513) to repeal Civil Rights Law 50-a,” said Juan Cartagena, President and General Counsel at LatinoJustice PRLDEF.   

“Power concedes nothing without a demand. Black and Brown communities have been demanding the right to live free of state-sanctioned violence and police brutality for decades. The family members of people killed by law enforcement in partnership with the statewide coalition, Communities United for Police Reform, laid the groundwork over years for fully repealing 50-a, the police secrecy law, and passing the Police STAT Act to bring meaningful transparency and accountability to police departments across the state. Yet it took a mass uprising of hundreds of thousands of people in the streets across the nation, and video after video showing law enforcement violence against protesters and people of color, to move these reforms in the state legislature this week. The Legislature’s passage of this slate of bills will increase transparency regarding police misconduct and discipline records, and help address the systemic lack of accountability for law enforcement behavior across the state. Now it’s time for Governor Cuomo to make good on his public commitment to signing these bills into law. We have so much further to go to end mass criminalization, incarceration and police violence against Black and Brown New Yorkers in order to create real safety and stability in our communities," said Stanley Fritz, Political Director of Citizen Action of New York.  

“A comprehensive repeal of Police Secrecy Law 50-a and advancement of other needed police reforms are now just one pen stroke away, and with these bills codified into law, New Yorkers will be better able to hold their police department accountable for misconduct committed in their communities,” said Tina Luongo, Attorney-in-Charge of the Criminal Defense Practice at The Legal Aid Society. “Sunlight is the best disinfectant, and we know that transparency is a critical first step in to change the way police interact with communities in New York. The Legal Aid Society thanks Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins and Assembly Speaker Heastie for quickly and rightly responding to the overwhelming calls from New Yorkers for immediate and meaningful action by prioritizing this legislation. We urge Governor Andrew Cuomo to enact this bill into law at once. Lastly, we must acknowledge that this moment is wholly the result of communities of color - those who have long shouldered abuse from the police - rising up and demanding change."

"New York has taken a critical step in the fight against police impunity. By increasing transparency and accountability, the repeal of this anti-democratic police secrecy law will aid us as we continue to fight for a safer and more just world that prioritizes care of communities and reimagines the role of policing," said Lupe Aguirre, Bertha Justice Fellow at the Center for Constitutional Rights.

Repealing 50-a is a critical step towards holding police accountable for misconduct against young people and others," said Kate Rubin, Director of Policy at Youth Represent.  "We thank the legislature for passing this crucial legislation and are proud to stand with the Communities United for Police Reform and the dozens of organizations that have been fighting for transparency for years."



About Communities United for Police Reform

Communities United for Police Reform (CPR) is an unprecedented campaign to end discriminatory policing practices in New York, and to build a lasting movement that promotes public safety and reduces reliance on policing. CPR runs coalitions of over 200 local, statewide and national organizations, bringing together a movement of community members, lawyers, researchers and activists to work for change. The partners in this campaign come from all 5 boroughs, from all walks of life and represent many of those most unfairly targeted by the NYPD.

Topics: Repeal 50-A