New York lawmakers propose series of police reforms, including repeal of 50-a, chokehold ban

Kristine Garcia , Katie Corrado , Cristian Benavid

June 08, 2020

Originally published in Pix11 on June 08, 2020.

NEW YORK — New York lawmakers are expected to vote on a series of criminal justice reforms, including the repeal of the 50-a, a state law that protects police personnel records from being released publicly.

The Senate Democratic Majority unveiled Monday 10 bills that will be advanced and voted on amid civil unrest that has called out police brutality on the African American community. Nationwide protests flared up following the death of 46-year-old George Floyd.

Floyd died in police custody on Memorial Day in Minneapolis. Bystander video shows one police officer, Derek Chauvin, kneeling on Floyd's neck for more than eight minutes. Additional video shows that two other officers also put their body weight on Floyd during the arrest while a fourth officer stood by with his back turned during the arrest.

They have all been fired from their jobs and face charges in Floyd’s death.

Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins was among the lawmakers who ensured the public that the Senate is stepping up and listening to their concerns.

“Black New Yorkers, like all residents of this state, deserve to know that their rights, and lives, are valued and protected by our justice system. The Senate is stepping up to advance reforms that will empower New Yorkers, improve transparency, and help save lives. I thank our colleagues in the State Assembly, and my partner in legislative leadership, Speaker Carl Heastie, for undertaking these historic measures to help move New York State forward. The legislation that will be passed over the coming days will help stop bad actors and send a clear message that brutality, racism, and unjustified killings will not be tolerated,” said Stewart-Cousins.

“Too often injustices go unseen and police officers feel emboldened to act as judge and jury. Body cameras will diminish the trust deficit between the police and communities they serve,” Sen. Kevin Parker said.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo previously said he would sign any legislation that repeals 50-a.

The following bills will be advanced by the Senate Majority:

Senate Bill S.8496: This legislation, sponsored by Sen. Jamaal Bailey, will repeal section 50-a of the Civil Rights Law that provides additional protections to the personnel records of police officers, firefighters, and correction officers. This protection has been interpreted to include disciplinary records of law enforcement officers. This repeal would subject these records to FOIL, just as all other records kept by public agencies, while protecting the sensitive personal contact and health information of these officers.

Senate Bill S.2574B: This legislation, sponsored by Senator Jamaal Bailey, will create an Office of Special Investigation within the Department of Law, under the Attorney General, which will investigate, and, if warranted, prosecute any incident of a person whose death was caused by a police officer or peace officer.

Senate Bill S.3253A: This legislation, sponsored by Senator Kevin Parker, will clarify that a person not under arrest or in the custody has the right to record police activity and to maintain custody and control of that recording, and of any property or instruments used to record police activities.

Senate Bill S.6670B: This legislation, the "Eric Garner Anti-Chokehold Act," sponsored by Senator Brian Benjamin, will prohibit the use of chokeholds by law enforcement and establish the crime of aggravated strangulation as a Class-C felony.

Senate Bill S.3595B: This legislation, sponsored by Senator Kevin Parker, will establish the Law Enforcement Misconduct Investigative Office within the Department of Law to review, study, audit and make recommendations regarding operations, policies, programs and practices of local law enforcement agencies. The goal of this legislation is to enhance the effectiveness of law enforcement, increase public safety, protect civil liberties and civil rights, ensure compliance with constitutional protections and local, state and federal laws, and increase the public's confidence in law enforcement.

Senate Bill S.1830C: This legislation, sponsored by Senator Brad Hoylman, the Police Statistics and Transparency (STAT) Act, will require courts to compile and publish racial and other demographic data of all low- level offenses, including misdemeanors and violations. The bill also requires police departments to submit annual reports on arrest-related deaths to be submitted to the Department of Criminal Justice Services and to the Governor and the Legislature.

Senate Bill S.8492: This legislation, sponsored by Senator Kevin Parker, establishes a private right of action for a member of a protected class when another person summons a police or peace officer on them without reason to suspect a crime or an imminent threat to person or property existed.

Senate Bill S.6601A: This legislation, sponsored by Senator Jamaal Bailey, will amend the Civil Rights Law by adding a new section that affirms New Yorkers’ right to medical and mental health attention while in custody.

Senate Bill S.8493: This legislation, the New York State Police Body-Worn Cameras Program, sponsored by Senator Kevin Parker, will direct the Division of State Police to provide all State police officers with body-worn cameras that are to be used any time an officer conducts a patrol and prescribes mandated situations when the camera is to be turned on and recording.

Senate Bill S.2575B: This legislation, sponsored by Senator Jamaal Bailey, will require state and local law enforcement officers, as well as peace officers, to report, within six hours, when they discharge their weapon where a person could have been struck, whether they were on or off duty.