Law enforcement interaction with the public has a critical impact on public safety and the effectiveness of our criminal justice system. But New Yorkers, especially those charged with crimes, do not have a full picture of law enforcement conduct that affects them.
NY Civil Rights Law §50-a provides that “personnel records used to evaluate performance toward continued employment or promotion…shall be considered confidential” and not subject to public disclosure absent the officer’s consent or a court order. That means that people with strong innocence claims and their attorneys are prevented from learning about patterns of misconduct that may exist with an arresting officer, leading to potential wrongful or unnecessary incarceration. Furthermore, bad actors in law enforcement who engage in dangerous and unlawful behavior in the course of their duty are seldom held accountable.
This creates a culture of mistrust between communities and their police, and undermines law enforcement officials who faithfully execute their duties with good conduct. Recent court rulings have further entrenched this law, shielding the public from insight into the actions of law enforcement. New York must increase law enforcement transparency, improve community-police trust, and ensure that good police officers are not hindered by the bad actions of others by striking down CRL §50-A.