New York passes police reform bills

Courtesy of Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo’s officeGov. Andrew M. Cuomo delivers his daily coronavirus briefing Tuesday at New York Medical College in Valhalla.

QUEENS — After weeks of nationwide civil unrest over police brutality, state lawmakers completed passage of 10 pieces of legislation in three days to reform police departments across New York.

Remote Senate and Assembly votes started Monday and finished Wednesday afternoon. Both houses passed bills that criminalized police chokeholds and require state police to wear body cameras. Two others will give the state’s attorney general more authority to investigate police departments and police-related shootings.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo and state Democratic leaders announced their Say Their Name police reform agenda last week. The governor has repeatedly said over the past two weeks he would sign any related bills that come across his desk.

“I was talking to a friend the other day and saying that I think at this point, you or someone that you know has been affected by cancer,” Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins said during a floor speech Wednesday. “Well if you are black in America, you or someone you know has had a bad interaction with law enforcement. That’s just the way it is.

“However, I do have hope,” added Stewart-Cousins, D-35. “Because here I am remarkably in this historic position at this historic time able to be part of a movement that started with the blatant and horrific murder of George Floyd. Something all of us have seen, and as a result of that, people have taken to the streets.”

Senate Bill S.8493 passed the Senate 61-1 and the Assembly 142-2 late Tuesday afternoon, establishing the pilot New York State Police Body-Worn Cameras Program. The program will provide all state police officers with body-worn cameras to be used any time an officer conducts a patrol and prescribes mandated situations when the camera is to be turned on and recording. State police troopers do not and have never worn body cameras on duty.

“What we did is not a cure, but it is a first step towards acknowledging that while laws alone cannot fix racism in America, they can begin to root injustice out of our justice system and start us on the path to equality,” Stewart-Cousins said.

Attorney General Letitia James appointed former U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch and New York University law professor Barry Friedman as two special advisers to help guide and support her investigation into the recent interactions between the New York City Police Department and the general public after videos and reports of some police officers responding to protesters or civil unrest with excessive force. Friedman is the founder and faculty director of the Policing Project at NYU Law.

On Tuesday, the state Senate and Assembly repealed a section of law allowing for the release of police disciplinary records. New York senators passed bill S8496 to repeal 50-a, or the exemption under the state Civil Rights Law permitting officials to refuse to disclose disciplinary records of police officers.

Over the last several days, Cuomo has repeatedly said he would immediately sign any repeal or amendment to the law that reached his desk.

Senate Minority Leader John J. Flanagan, R-2, called the repeal dangerous, saying it denies police due process whose records were available at a court’s discretion.

“The brutal killing of George Floyd is a horrific tragedy that never should have occurred, but it is not a reason to vilify and punish every man and woman in law enforcement who serves to protect and serve our communities in New York, nor should it be a reason to sow division,” Flanagan said in a statement. “This change does something un-American: It provides records that include false accusations made against officers and that does little to advance the cause of transparency. What it allows is a flood of information requests to obtain information on officers who currently face heightened anti-police rhetoric.”

Other bills passed by the state Senate and Assembly legalized filming the arrest of any police officer, made false race-based 911 reports a crime and required law enforcement — on or off duty — to report any incident within six hours where they discharged a weapon near where people could be hit.

Another bill, the STAT Act, will require statewide courts to collect and publish demographic data based on race, ethnicity, age and more for all low-level offenses, including misdemeanors and violations. The act requires police departments to submit yearly arrest-related death reports to the state Department of Criminal Justice Services, the Legislature and governor.

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