New York State Police Reform Legislation Results in Greater Access for Journalists

Last week Governor Cuomo signed several police reform bills which make fundamental changes in the access to police records.  For years journalists have sought access to a variety of record.  In the aftermath of the murder of George Floyd, the New York Legislature and the Governor moved forward with this important legislation.  The following summarizes the various measures.

Disclosing Police Disciplinary Files – Repeal of Section 50(a)

For years Section 50(a) of the NY civil rights laws has blocked access to police records.  The law is now repealed and it is replaced by a new Police Officers Law.  This new law outlines what types of records are subject to a Freedom of Information Act (FOIL) request. The new law requires police to turn over the disciplinary records of police officers when they are requested under the state’s Freedom of Information Law, (FOIL).

The following types of information would be subject to FOIL:  (a) the complaints, allegations, and charges against the police officer;  (b) the name of the police employee complained of or charged; (c) the transcript of any disciplinary trial or hearing, including any exhibits introduced at such trial or hearing; (d) the disposition of any disciplinary proceeding; (e) the final written opinion or memorandum supporting the disposition and  discipline imposed including the agency’s complete factual findings

Personal information like home addresses, medical records, technical infractions etc. would not be subject to disclosure.

Right to Monitor Act

Governor Andrew M. Cuomo signed legislation (S.3253-A/A.1360) – the ‘New Yorker’s Right to Monitor Act’ – affirming the right of an individual or journalist to record law enforcement activity and to maintain custody of that recording and any instruments used to make the recording.  Bottom line, police may no longer seek to prevent you from recording, or attempting to confiscate equipment.

Police Statistics and Transparency Act (S.1830-C/A.10609)

The Police Statistics and Transparency Act – or STAT Act – requires courts to compile and publish racial and other demographic data of all low-level offenses, including misdemeanors and violations. The data collected must be made available online and updated monthly. The new law also requires police departments to report any arrest-related death to the Department of Criminal Justice Services and to submit annual reports on arrest-related deaths to the Governor and the Legislature.

Weapons Discharge Reporting (S.2575-B/A.10608)

This new law requires that any law enforcement officer or peace officer who discharges their weapon, while on or off duty, where a person could be struck by a bullet from the weapon is required to verbally report the incident to his or her supervisor within six hours and prepare and file a written report within 48 hours of the incident.

Right to Record Policy Activity

This new law will clarify that a person not under arrest or in the custody has the right to record police activity and to maintain custody and control of that recording, and of any property or instruments used to record police activities.

Police Data Reporting:

The new law (Senate Bill S.1830C), the Police Statistics and Transparency (STAT) Act, will require courts to compile and publish racial and other demographic data of all low- level offenses, including misdemeanors and violations. The bill also requires police departments to submit annual reports on arrest-related deaths to be submitted to the Department of Criminal Justice Services and to the Governor and the Legislature.

Body Cameras for NY State Police

The new law (Senate Bill S.8493), the New York State Police Body-Worn Cameras Program, will direct the Division of State Police to provide all State police officers with body-worn cameras that are to be used any time an officer conducts a patrol and prescribes mandated situations when the camera is to be turned on and recording.

 

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