The police reforms passed by New York state

NYPD at a protest at Grand Army Plaza in Brooklyn on June 8, 2020.
NYPD at a protest at Grand Army Plaza in Brooklyn on June 8, 2020.
Richard Scalzo/Shutterstock
NYPD at a protest at Grand Army Plaza in Brooklyn on June 8, 2020.

The police reforms passed by New York state

A total of 11 bills made their way through the state Senate and Assembly.
June 10, 2020

Recent protests have spurred state lawmakers to do what appeared unthinkable just two weeks ago – getting a package of police reform bills through the state Legislature over the longstanding opposition of police unions.

This includes the repeal of what has been called “the most contentious state law on the books” – 50-a, the provision that prevented disclosure of police personnel records – among other changes to how police operate. Other bills that passed the state Senate and Assembly included a chokehold ban and the codification of the public’s right to record law enforcement in public. 

Gov. Andrew Cuomo is expected to sign into law this week as demonstrations continue in the wake of the May 25 death of George Floyd, a Minneapolis man whose death has inspired widespread outrage that is now being channeled into new police reform efforts across the country.

That means big changes in the Empire State. Here is what each of the 11 bills approved by the state Legislature will do once they take effect.

Police disciplinary records/50-a repeal

The most controversial bill approved by state lawmakers would change state law to allow the release of police disciplinary records. Supporters say this will make it easier to weed out cops with a history of misconduct allegations before they are involved in additional incidents, as was the case with the officer who placed Eric Garner, a Staten Island man who died in 2014, in a fatal chokehold. Some personal information, however, would not be subject to public release. 

Chokehold ban

Although it did not prevent Officer Daniel Pantaleo from putting his arm across Eric Garner’s neck in 2014, official NYPD policy does not allow chokeholds. That has created legal ambiguity about what types of grappling maneuvers are still allowed and whether officers can be charged with a crime if they use a chokehold. There are also other departments in the state that lack specific bans. The bill that passed the state Legislature makes it a class c felony to place someone in a fatal chokehold, though some exceptions are made for police in life-threatening situations. 

Right to record

Another bill inspired by the Garner case establishes an affirmative right for members of the public to record the police in public. While filming the 2014 confrontation between Garner and the NYPD that did not cost Staten Islander Ramsey Orta his freedom per se, it did bring him to the attention of police who later got him locked up on drug and weapons charges. Coincidentally, Orta was released from prison this week. 

The “Amy Cooper” law

While there was talk of making it a hate crime to fraudulently call 911 in order to get black people in trouble, lawmakers eventually settled on a bill that would allow victims to sue for damages whenever someone – like a certain white woman in Manhattan who didn’t want to leash her dog – seeks to weaponize the police in the future.

Prohibit racial profiling

Believe it or not, racial profiling will only become illegal once the governor signs into law a bill prohibiting the practice. The state attorney general would also be able to bring legal action against police departments that continue to target racial and ethnic minorities. 

Attorney General Office of Special Investigations

Under this legislation, a new office under the purview of the state attorney general would investigate any fatal encounters between members of the public and police. 

Law enforcement inspector general 

The governor would be able to appoint a new inspector general to oversee local and state police across the state. That person, who would serve a five-year term, would have a $10 million annual budget and the power to access any records held by local and state law enforcement agencies. There are limits written into the legislative language, however, on what types of information could be released to the general public. 

Body cameras

State troopers must wear body cameras 30 days after the governor signs this legislation.

More data on arrests and in-custody deaths

The idea for this bill came from President Barack Obama’s Task Force on 21st Century Policing. While it took a few years to get it through the state Legislature, it will require that law enforcement collect and publicly release additional demographic information on who is arrested for low-level offense and what happened to people who die while in jails and prisons. 

Medical attention in custody

Criminal defendants would be allowed to pursue civil damages against police who deny them the “reasonable” level of medical care necessary to prevent “injury or significant exacerbation of an injury or condition,” according to the legislative language.

Firearms discharge reporting

Police officers will have to notify their commanding officers within six hours whenever they shoot a gun – on or off duty – in a way that could have caused bodily harm to someone. A written report would also have to be filed within 48 hours, according to the legislation. This closes a loophole in state law that allowed one NYPD officer to initially avoid telling anyone he fatally shot a man in a 2007 road rage incident by claiming he thought all those bullets he fired hadn’t hit anyone. 

Editor's note: Due to an editing error, an earlier version of this mischaracterized how a chokehold was used on Eric Garner by Daniel Pantaleo. 

Zach Williams
is a staff reporter at City & State.
20200929