One of the anticipated positive outcomes of the turmoil that followed the George Floyd killing in May was supposed to be more transparency in police departments to help weed out the bad cops and prevent future such incidents.
But six months after Gov. Andrew Cuomo signed a bill that would force police to be more transparent, a report by USA Today Network New York has found that police are still finding ways to keep the public in the dark – and therefore unsafe.
Back in June, right after Floyd was killed at the hands of Minneapolis police, Cuomo signed a bill repealing section 50-a of the state Civil Rights Law. The section had been used with increasing frequency over the years to keep police disciplinary records from being made public.
The release of such records would reveal the identity and punishment for police officers who were beating suspects, tampering with evidence, taking bribes and other forms of corruption.
It also would show whether police agencies were meting out appropriate punishment for misconduct or whether they were covering it up, and thereby condoning it.
Police agencies should have nothing to worry about if the truth is on their side and if they are indeed punishing and removing rogue officers.
And the many good officers would benefit from disclosure because when there is an incident such as the Floyd killing, all police are tainted by the conduct of the bad officers.
So the Legislature passed, and Cuomo signed, the repeal of this unwarranted shield from public scrutiny.
But as the USA Today report found, the change is not having its intended effect.
Police agencies are resisting efforts to disclose disciplinary records, often using the state’s own transparency laws against those seeking information.
For instance, the report found police are imposing excessive costs for releasing information, a tactic often used by government to discourage the public from seeking records
Other departments denied access to the records by claiming those records didn’t exist, claimed they had disposed of the records, and repeatedly failed to meet legal deadlines for release of information.
Yet others said they didn’t have the staff to handle such requests, another way government tries to get around state transparency laws.
If police agencies are going to find loopholes to complying with the law, then the public will not learn about rogue officers, these officers will be allowed to continue in their positions, and there will be many more George Floyds.
Lawmakers need to investigate why the law is not being followed, and tighten the legislation to ensure that police can no longer hide bad officers and weak disciplinary policies from the citizens the police have pledged to serve and protect.