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Court upholds release of NYPD disciplinary records

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A federal court judge upheld a state law allowing the public release of New York City Police Department officers’ disciplinary records, prompting praise from a cadre of local pols.

The city and state engaged in a slew of police reform measures last year in response to the outcry against police brutality in minority communities — including a bill, S8496, that repealed a long-standing statute called Civil Rights Law 50-A, which was originally established in 1976, and barred the release of personnel records of officers. 

However, the bill’s implementation was swiftly halted when police and firefighter unions tied up Mayor Bill de Blasio’s administration in litigation that several unions and benevolent associations — including those representing the NYPD, the FDNY, and the New York City Department of Correction — filed against the city.

The unions argued that making the records public would violate their collective bargaining agreements, cause irreparable harm to their careers and future employment opportunities, and heighten danger for officer’s safety among other things.  

But the US Federal Appeals Court Second Circuit ruled on Feb. 16 against the unions and affirmed that records could be released under the state law.

Mayor Bill de Blasio hailed the ruling, and vowed to begin releasing information in an expedient manner. 

“This is a very important ruling, it finally allows us after years of trying to get this changed to move forward. My goal is to start releasing data quickly. We still need further guidance from the court, but I’d like to see as early as next week to see the release of data so long as it conforms with the specifics of the court’s ruling,” said de Blasio. 

State Sen. Zellnor Myrie, who co-sponsored the bill, said he was honored to vote for the repeal of 50-A after years of advocacy from communities that look like his.

“The people spoke clearly in support of transparency and accountability and I am happy the Second Circuit agreed,” the pol said. “Our years of advocacy to push for reform should never have been tangled in bad-faith litigation, but I am pleased that the courts decided in favor of our impacted communities. I’m hopeful this ruling is yet another step in the ongoing struggle for police accountability.”

The court announced its intention to proactively publish certain types of disciplinary records and provide other records upon request through New York’s Freedom of Information Law.

“We have considered the Unions’ remaining arguments and conclude that they are without merit,” transcribed the court in its summary.

The court said that unions “failed to demonstrate” evidence for their claims and called certain parts of their arguments “arbitrary and capricious.”

“When it comes to a crucial issue, the bond between police and community, the partnership we need to keep building between police and community, that is always based on trust, accountability, and, transparency,” said de Blasio.  

This story first appeared on Kings County Politics.

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