EDITORIAL: Repeal of 50-a a victory for New Yorkers

Police disciplinary records now available through Freedom of Information Law

Categories: Editorial, Opinion

Nassau Officer Anthony DiLeonardo was found in an internal affairs investigation to have shot and beat an unarmed cabdriver without justification while off-duty in 2011 after a night of drinking. He remained on the job for years afterward until his retirement.

Nassau highway patrol Officer Joseph Lynch stayed on the job for six years after investigators found he manipulated drunken driving arrests to boost his overtime, collecting more than $58,000 in 2004.

His departmental penalty? Desk duty, then a return to street duty. 

He retired with a $121,000 annual pension.

Suffolk Detective Dennis Mannix failed to safeguard jewelry taken during a burglary, as it somehow wound up “lost or stolen” under his watch. He faked a report and didn’t file the information for a year. His penalty? Forfeiting 60 days of accrued leave and two years probation, while earning more than $179,000 that year.

At least eight police officers faced departmental charges for improperly accessing police computers or the state’s confidential Department of Motor Vehicles database for personal reasons, such as checking on women or a neighbor with whom they were feuding. 

More than 100 cops involved in serious misconduct cases either remained on the job or continued to work for years before retiring. 

That information is the result of a massive investigation into police misconduct in Long Island conducted by a team of five reporters from New York Newsday in 2013.

To get that information, they had to review 900 lawsuits, 7,000 pages of county legislative transcripts, union agreements and 1,700 proposed state laws, as well as 300 pages of redacted department teletypes that often are kept secret from the public.

Their job was made all that much more difficult by restrictions placed on their access by Section 50-a of the state Civil Rights Law.

It shouldn’t take a team of investigative reporters to uncover information about police officer misconduct. That information should be readily available to the public.

And it shouldn’t have taken the death of a black man at the hands of a white police officer to change the law that allowed police to hide from scrutiny for the past 44 years.

But now, thanks to the state Legislature and Gov. Andrew Cuomo, aided by the recent wave of police brutality protesters and a years-long effort by social justice advocates, police reformers and the media, the task of rooting out bad cops and exposing weak departmental discipline has gotten a whole lot easier.

Gov. Cuomo on Friday signed a bill repealing Section 50-a, a couple of days after it was repealed by the Legislature. The new law requires law enforcement agencies to turn over the disciplinary records of police officers when they are requested under the state’s Freedom of Information Law (FOIL).

Of course, placing the records under FOIL is no guarantee that government will cooperate in their release. But it does give citizens a legal remedy to this secrecy they didn’t have before.

This is an important step in rooting out and punishing violent or otherwise criminal and incompetent police officers. For the good police officers painted by the brush of malfeasance, this is also a victory for them.

Mostly, it is a victory for the citizens of New York and all who might be victimized by these officers.

Repeal of 50-a is just the medicine this disease needed.

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