Recent events have raised concerns about police discipline all across the country. New York City has seen its share of police misconduct cases, including cases resulting in one or more deaths. A key difference between the Floyd case and analogous New York cases is the fate of the officers’ disciplinary records. In Minnesota, the records are public; in New York, the records are confidential.
The key statute is Sec. 50-a of the New York Civil Rights law. This statute says that “all personnel records used to evaluate “performance . . . or promotion” shall be considered to be “confidential and not subject to inspection or review” without the express written consent of the police officer or “except as may be mandated by lawful court order.” The law has been a part of the state’s statutes for more than 40 years, but now, minorities are beginning to question the law’s value.
The state’s Black, Puerto Rican, Hispanic and Asian Legislative Caucus called for the repeal of Section 50-a, arguing that the statute permits police officer misconduct to be hidden from public view. Rep. Peoples-Stokes called for “some transparency” about the actions of public servants. While evidence of past bad acts by a defendant are not always admissible, a police officer’s disciplinary record may provide highly relevant information in a case alleging that the officer knowingly violated one or more regulations. When those charges involve the use of deadly force, the officer’s prior record can be especially probative.
If a private citizen were charged with assault, for example, evidence of prior assaults by the same person might be used to prove that the person acted with and deliberately ignored actual knowledge of the law. Anyone who believes that their civil rights have been violated by a New York City police officer may wish to consult an experienced civil rights attorney for a review of the evidence and an estimate of the likelihood of recovering damages.