CIVIC CENTER — The state legislature should eliminate a state law that the NYPD now claims prohibits the disclosure of disciplinary actions taken against police officers, Mayor Bill de Blasio said on Thursday.
Earlier this week, Police Commissioner Bill Bratton revealed that the NYPD realized last April that it had been in violation of a 40-year-old law that restricted release of a police officer's disciplinary records — and had halted access to internal documents known as “personnel orders.”
"I believe we should change the state law and make these records public," de Blasio said on his weekly visit to the Brian Lehrer radio show Thursday.
The new legal interpretation of Section 50-A of the state civil rights law followed a DNAinfo New York “On the Inside” column disclosing that Officer Daniel Pantaleo, who was involved in Eric Garner’s chokehold death, was found guilty of making an “unauthorized frisk without legal authority” during a separate stop that pre-dated the 2014 Garner tragedy.
The Pantaleo revelation was contained in a February 2016 “personnel order.”
Since April, after a civil liberties organization sought the “personnel orders” and other NYPD records, the NYPD re-examined the law and then halted the practice.
And the NYPD was supported by de Blasio, who blamed the law for preventing future access to Pantaleo and all officer disciplinary records.
But the mayor clarified his position on Brian Lehrer’s WNYC radio program Thursday.
“The current state law that we have to honor — that does not allow for transparency," he said.
“I would welcome a change that provides more transparency and when there is a disciplinary finding against an officer, that would be released,” he added.
For his part, Bratton also said he would prefer releasing the information, but it was up to the legislature.
"What people have to understand is that government is huge and complex and sometimes things happen where the left hand and the right hand are not coordinated," the mayor said.
But the Section 50-A law was enacted in 1976 primarily to prevent criminal defense attorneys from having instant ammunition to use in court to undermine or besmirch the credibility of an officer testifying at a trial, or harass them, without court approval, DNAinfo New York reported earlier Thursday.
And despite the law, the NYPD — reeling from an era of widespread corruption in the 1970s — continued providing disciplinary records on officers to assure the public they were not returning to a time of covering up protection rackets and other types of untoward conduct.
NYPD observers and public information advocates say the department’s lawyers should revisit their opinion and return to transparency.