New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo Signs Package of Police Reform Bills

June 12, 2020 by Dan McCue
Assembly Majority Leader Crystal D. Peoples-Stokes, D- Buffalo, speaks in favor of new legislation for Police Reform while standing with Assembly members during a news briefing at the state Capitol Wednesday, June 8, 2020, in Albany, N.Y. (AP Photo/Hans Pennink)

New York’s Democratic Gov. Andrew Cuomo signed what he called the “most aggressive” police reform legislative package in the nation on Friday, just days after the state legislature moved to make officers more accountable.

Among other things, the package of bills — 10 in all — criminalizes chokeholds and other controversial restraints. They are part of a wave of legislation being considered across the country in the wake of the death of George Floyd, who died in Minneapolis after a white police officer knelt on his neck for more than eight minutes.

“The truth is this police reform is long overdue and Mr. Floyd’s murder is just the most recent murder,” Cuomo said Friday.

“It’s not just about Mr. Floyd’s murder. It’s about being here before, many, many times before,” the governor said.

Additionally, Cuomo signed an executive order making state funding to police contingent on New York agencies developing a plan by April 1, 2021, to “reinvent and modernize police strategies.”

“We’re not going to fund police agencies in this state that do not look at what has been happening, come to terms with it, and reform themselves,” the governor said.

A key measure signed on Friday involves shattering the veil of secrecy that a 1976 law provided police personnel and disciplinary records.

The state law, known by its section title, 50-a, was passed to prevent criminal defense attorneys from subjecting officers to cross-examinations about irrelevant information in their personnel file. The law applies to jail guards and firefighters, as well.

But over the years, the law also draped a veil over most records of alleged police misconduct. Formal complaints about excessive force by officers are not public in New York. In recent years, police departments have cited the law in refusing to say even whether officers have been punished.

“Today is about enough is enough,” Cuomo said.

The law gained widespread attention in 2016, when New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio argued it prevented the release of disciplinary records of the police officer involved in the chokehold death of Eric Garner.

Garner’s death — after he refused to be handcuffed for allegedly selling loose, untaxed cigarettes — came at a time of a growing public outcry over police killings of unarmed black men that gave impetus to the national Black Lives Matter movement.

The leaders of a coalition of police unions argued in a statement Monday that releasing such records, including complaints, could leave officers facing “unavoidable and irreparable harm to reputation and livelihood.”

The legislation would provide officers with some privacy protections, including redaction of home addresses, personal phone numbers and email addresses.

On Friday Cuomo signed four out of the 10 bills into law. The other six bills await his signature.

Other bills that are part of the package include one that guarantees the right to record police activity and collects more data on deaths in custody.

Another bill that makes it easier to file civil lawsuits against people who call 911 and falsely accuse someone of criminal activity based only on their race or background also passed.

The governor was joined by the mothers of two victims of police violence, activist Rev. Al Sharpton and others at the bill signing in Manhattan.

Sharpton said Cuomo’s executive action on police funding “raised the bar” and called on other states to follow suit.

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