Last week, Assemblyman Kevin Byrne (R,C,Ref-Mahopac), voted against the full repeal of section 50-a in the New York State Civil Rights Law (A10611), which eliminated long standing protections that were afforded to not only police officers, but corrections officers, probation officers, and firefighters/paramedics as well. Personnel records were previously shielded from disclosure by 50-a, absent personal consent of a subject individual or a lawful court order. With 50-a now fully repealed, personnel files for these officers, including access to unsubstantiated, unproven, and even false allegations, are now accessible for review.
The legislation to repeal 50-a was passed in both the state Assembly and Senate last week, and signed into law by Governor Cuomo last Friday (Chapter 96 of the laws of 2020).
The new law permits access to massive amounts of information without any additional review. This information can be misused to harass law enforcement officers and discredit their testimony in court which can hurt victims by preventing their perpetrators from being brought to justice. In addition, for corrections officers who work in close proximity with dangerous convicted criminals, this new law will allow inmates to access the personnel information belonging to the correction officers who oversee them in jail or prison. This will undoubtedly increase hostility and danger in what is already a very dangerous job.
Discussing his decision to vote no, Byrne said, “50-a has been greatly misrepresented by the media, politicians, and various special interest groups. While I’m glad the final 50-a repeal bill was amended to prevent an officer’s home address and contact information from being disclosed via FOIL, it still goes way too far and ignores the very serious concerns expressed to me by law enforcement. The bill that passed did not ‘amend 50-a,’ it completely repealed it. 50-a had previously existed to protect officers and prevent the misuse of their personnel information, especially false and unproven allegations in their file, from being used to harass them and/or discredit valuable testimony that could help prevent dangerous criminals from skirting justice. It’s also worth noting that it was not that long ago when the NYS Assembly, dominated by a Democrat Majority, passed legislation strengthening 50-a by adding probation officers to the list of protected officers. Chapter 516 of 2014 (A8192-A/Ryan) passed the Assembly without any Democrat opposition in 2014. This past month we watched the Assembly Democrat Majority do a complete 180 degree turn, ignoring the original purpose of 50-a and disingenuously asserting that 50-a merely protects bad cops. It is disturbing how quickly these entrenched politicians cave to political pressure and show their true colors. Not surprisingly, this fact was somehow not covered by a single media outlet in the state during the debate to repeal 50-a.”
Byrne continued, “Now that the repeal bill has already passed, I plan to work with colleagues in the Assembly and Senate to amend the FOIL law and strengthen protections therein that will prevent the dangerous disclosure of false and unproven allegations against our law enforcement officers. We must continue to have serious discussions about addressing racial injustice while improving policing through the utilization of body cameras, prohibiting chokeholds as a standard routine police maneuver when an officer’s life is not in danger, and advocating for updated training in the academy (two of which I already voted for earlier this month, A8674A, A6144B). All these decisions must be done with leaders from law enforcement at the table so that they too are heard. Encouraging dangerous mantras like ‘Defund The Police’ does not help.”
Keith Olson, President of Westchester County Affiliated Police Associations – “Lessons learned from the disaster caused by the rushed bail reform and discovery laws have been sadly lost on our Democratic legislators. The repeal of Civil Rights Law 50-a was done hastily and unfairly. While our Democratic lawmakers fight for the rights of known criminals, they simultaneously attack the rights of police officers. I am sad to say that far too many of them have lost their way. On behalf of the nearly 5,000 members of the Affiliated Police Associations of Westchester, I want to thank Assemblyman Kevin Byrne for voting NO for the repeal of 50-a, for his commitment to law enforcement and for standing on the right side of law and order.”
Mike Essig, President of the New York State Fraternal Order of Police – “New York State Fraternal Order of Police would like to thank Assemblyman Byrne for voting NO to repeal 50-a and thank him for his commitment to law enforcement in his community. The repeal of 50-a is akin to informing a jury of prior allegations or even convictions of an individual who is alleged to have committed an act. This past information would have no bearing on current allegations. By doing so, you are stripping public servants of the same rights and due process afforded to all.”
Neil Pellone, President of Westchester County Corrections Officers Benevolent Association – “The tragic murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis was a horrific act that should have never happened. While the need for reform is apparent, true reform results from thoughtful deliberation and careful considerations that lead to lasting change. Knee jerk reactions do not serve the public interest. The repeal of 50-a was done in haste and without meaningful input from the men and women in law enforcement. The need for public transparency should not come at the expense of the safety of an officer or his or her family who are also your constituents.”