Retired Albany Police Chief Calls For Repeal of Police Secrecy Law
Retired Chief Brendan Cox: “Repealing New York’s 50-a law is a critical step to protect the public safety of all New Yorkers.”
On the eve of the 2020 legislative session, retired Albany Chief of Police Brendan Cox took to the pages of the Albany Times Union today to call for the repeal of New York State’s police secrecy law, Section 50-a, which hides police misconduct and abuse records from the public. Cox argued that overturning the law is a “practical solution” that will help restore trust between police departments and the communities they serve.
New York is one of only two states with a law that specifically restricts public access to information on police officers’ misconduct and discipline records. New York’s 50-a is arguably the country’s most secretive law on police misconduct, declaring all police “personnel records” confidential – shielding police misconduct from public view.
In calling for the repeal of 50-a, former Chief Cox writes, “When there is a lack of police accountability, we lose legitimacy in the eyes of those we serve, making community members less likely to cooperate with us.” He added, “Repealing New York’s 50-a law is a critical step to protect the public safety of all New Yorkers. … In fact, repealing 50-a can make police safer, because our officers are safest when community members have our backs.”
Additional 50-a Background
New York is one of only two states with a law that specifically restricts public access to information on police officers’ misconduct and discipline records. New York’s 50-a is arguably the country’s most secretive law on police misconduct, declaring all police “personnel records” confidential – and providing specific exemptions for police, corrections and fire to FOIL/FOIA requests, despite robust privacy protections that have been built into the state’s existing FOIA law.
There are 27 states that grant some level of access to police personnel records, including 12 states that make disciplinary records available to the public as a matter of course. These include states like Ohio, Connecticut, Florida, Utah, Wisconsin, Georgia, Alabama, Arizona, Michigan, and Washington. The NYC Bar Association noted in April 2018 that “As the only one of its kind in the nation, 50-a has been interpreted so broadly that police misconduct in New York State is more secretive than any other state in the nation.”
New York police have used 50-a to shield abusive officers and departments from public scrutiny by hiding outcomes to disciplinary trials, names of officers involved in police misconduct, body camera footage, and even basic data on use of force incidents. In fact, the public only saw the judge's decision report in the trial of Daniel Pantaleo (the officer responsible for Eric Garner’s killing) because it was leaked to the press. According to the NYPD and Section 50-a,that decision and the accompanying report is considered confidential under 50-a.
About Communities United for Police Reform
Communities United for Police Reform (CPR) is an unprecedented campaign to end discriminatory and abusive 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 police.Topics: Repeal 50-A Safer NY Act