Accountability and transparency are important to preventing corruption in law enforcement. Until recently in New York, as well as in many other states, misconduct records in personnel files were not available to the public. However, state lawmakers repealed the law that kept the files private in 2020.
On the surface, this appears to be a win for civil rights and justice. It appears that legislators’ intentions and the execution of their legislation may not go hand in hand, though.
Creating roadblocks to access
According to ABC News, repealing section 50-a of New York’s civil rights law did open up hundreds of thousands of misconduct records to the public. This does not mean the records are actually available, though. From steep request filing fees to lawsuits, records continue to have protection from the public eye.
While some people believe the language of the law is clear, there is strength behind those challenging it, including law enforcement unions, agencies and organizations. To confuse the matter more, the courts have issued differing opinions on how to interpret the law.
Spectrum News 1 reports that New York judges have been inconsistent in their rulings on whether the repeal of 50-a should affect misconduct files retroactively or should only make files from after the repeal date available to the public. This seems to indicate that the matter will have to go through appeals and obtain a final ruling from the New York Supreme Court.
It may be that legislators need to revisit the law and clarify that the intention really is to hold law enforcement and corrections officers accountable for actions in the past as well as those going forward.