New York state lawmakers earlier this week repealed a decades-old law that has kept law enforcement officers’ disciplinary records secret and Gov. Andrew Cuomo made it official on Friday.
The repeal of the law known as Section 50-a was spurred by the local uproar over the death of George Floyd. Only Delaware has a similar law.
The measure to make officers’ records and misconduct complaints public was the first police change among several police accountability bills currently racing through the state legislature. Lawmakers passed other bills that would provide all state troopers with body cameras and ensure that police officers provide medical and mental health attention to people in custody.
Gov. Cuomo said Friday he will sign an executive order requiring local governments and agencies to "develop a plan that reinvents and modernizes police strategies." Communities must create and implement a plan by April 1, the governor said, or they will not be eligible for state funding.
The plans must address force by police officers, crowd management, community policing, implicit bias awareness training, de-escalation training and practices, restorative justice practices, and community-based outreach.
"To say that every mayor must come up with a plan along these areas or [New York] would withhold state money is a model for where we ought to be dealing with 21st century civil rights in this country. Make on mistake, this is a new level that all other 49 governors ought to look at," Rev. Al Sharpton said.
Cuomo signed police reform bills including the repeal of 50-a alongside Rev. Al Sharpton, Gwen Carr, Valerie Bell and other advocates, as well as New York State Senate Democratic Leader Andrew Stewart-Cousins and State Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie.
The reform package signed by Cuomo repeals 50-a, bans chokeholds by law enforcement officers, prohibits false race-biased 911 reports and designates an independent prosecutor to investigate the civilian deaths in police custody.
Police Benevolent Association President Patrick Lynch says state leaders have no reason to celebrate after "failing our communities for decades."
"We will be permanently frozen, stripped of all resources and unable to do the job. We don't want to see our communities suffer, but this is what Governor Cuomo and our elected leaders have chosen," Lynch said.
State lawmakers passed reforms the same day as criminal charges were brought against an NYPD officer over his rough treatment of a protester during demonstrations following the death of Floyd, who pleaded he couldn’t breathe as a white Minneapolis police officer pressed a knee on his neck May 25.
While supporters and lawmakers were quick to hail the decision, police unions bashed the repeal, blaming "opportunistic politicians" for rushing to pass the bills, and ultimately blaming them for "our increase in crime," the presidents for the detectives' and lieutenants' unions said.
Detectives' Endowment Association President Paul DiGiacomo wondered why the police weren't consulted with the bills, and particularly blamed Mayor Bill de Blasio.
"Mayor de Blasio flip-flopped, once again. The other day, he said publicly that 50a needed to be changed, but not fully repealed. The only thing he consistently does is turn his back on the brave men and women in blue who he relies on to keep every New Yorker safe," DiGiacomo said.
Momentum for ending the secrecy law reached a crescendo in recent days as thousands of marchers filled streets in Brooklyn and Manhattan to rally against police abuses — amplifying the calls of reform advocates who spent years pushing for change in the wake of other high-profile police killings, including that of Eric Garner in 2014.
“This is no time for rejoicing,” said State Senator Kevin Parker, a Democrat representing parts of Brooklyn. “This bill has been around for over a decade … And the only reason why we’re bringing it to the floor now because the nation is burning.”
Protests, which have been going on for more than two weeks, are expected to continue across New York City Friday.