The New York Police Department will no longer be able to hide records of officer misconduct from the public.
The state’s governor recently signed into law a bill repealing 50-a, a decades-old policy that let police departments keep discipline and misconduct records secret. This repeal was effective immediately upon its signing on June 12, 2020, and was brought forward as part of a larger law enforcement reform package.
“We know this isn’t a cure,” said one of the state senators behind the repeal bill. “We know that this is the beginning, but it’s a move to bring justice to a system that has long been unjust.”
Why this repeal is significant
50-a has long been an obstacle for those fighting for equal rights. One leader with the New York Civil Liberties Union described the policy as “arguably the worst law in the nation when it comes to the public’s ability to access these records.”
That’s because 50-a allowed the police department to operate in near-total secrecy. Any records regarding an officer’s misconduct or discipline were completely off-limits to the public. Over the years, authorities used the law’s language to conceal more and more.
This made it nearly impossible to scrutinize officers’ actions or find patterns of abuse.
What happens next
The repeal of 50-a, which comes at a time of sweeping social change, opens the door to transparency. Misconduct and disciplinary records, just like most public records, will now be available to journalists and the public through Freedom of Information Law requests.
Supporters of the repeal applauded the measure as a much-needed, long-overdue step toward accountability. This move means it will be easier to find patterns of misconduct within law enforcement, and hold those perpetrating these injustices accountable.
“There’s no trust,” the governor said of the relationship between police and the community, “and if there is no trust, the relationship doesn’t work.”