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How Section 50-a Protects the Privacy of Police Disciplinary Actions

Posted on in Civil Service Employees

Brooklyn police discipline defense attorney

In New York, state law NYCL CVR Section 50-a prohibits the release of the personnel records of certain occupations, including corrections officers, firefighters, and EMTs. However, police officers are the occupation most commonly associated with this law, and information about certain types of police disciplinary actions is not disclosable to the public or the media. 

By blocking public disclosure of these records, Section 50-a protects police officers from retaliation by criminals and prevents defense attorneys from using a police officer’s disciplinary record to discredit their testimony in a criminal trial. This law also protects police officers from being publicly vilified on the basis of unverified or unsubstantiated accusations or because of disciplinary actions that are unrelated to the cases they are involved in.

Some Civil Rights Advocates Call for Repeal of Section 50-a 

Under Section 50-a, a police officer’s records may be obtained through a subpoena, and it will be reviewed by a judge to ensure that the information in these records is relevant to a court case. In many cases, an officer’s prior conduct is not relevant, and in many cases, personnel records will only be relevant if disciplinary action was taken in relation to an officer’s false statements or reports. 

Some advocates have argued that the state legislature needs to change or repeal Section 50-a to allow for more transparency into the police disciplinary process. Opponents of 50-a claim that it allows the NYPD to conceal serious offenses by members of the police force. However, those in favor of the law believe that it provides police officers with privacy, since in many cases, disciplinary actions or other information in an officer’s personnel records is unrelated to criminal investigations or prosecutions. For example, an officer’s record may show that they were disciplined because of delinquent child support payments, and making this information publicly available would not provide any benefits in cases involving criminal charges or civil rights. 

New York Lawmakers and Courts Continue to Uphold Section 50-a

Thus far, despite several efforts, the New York legislature has failed to pass bills to alter 50-a. In addition, the state appellate courts have ruled against two separate demands for the release of police disciplinary records in recent months. In December 2018, an appellate court rejected the NY Civil Liberties Union’s request for documents related to complaints made to the Civilian Complaint Review Board and subsequent disciplinary proceedings against the accused police officers. In January 2019, the appellate court denied a request from two groups of defense attorneys for similar records. At least for now, Section 50-a remains a strong protection for police officers accused of on-the-job misconduct.

A Powerful New York City Police Defense Lawyer 

At Watford Jackson, PLLC, we have 40+ years of experience in defending New York City police officers and other civil service employees. If you are facing allegations of misconduct, we will aggressively defend you at every step of the disciplinary process, from investigative interviews to hearings and appeals. When you need a Manhattan police defense attorney who will fight for your rights, call Watford Jackson, PLLC at 855-WAT-JACK or 855-928-5225.  

Sources:

https://www.dos.ny.gov/coog/foil2.html

https://www.cityandstateny.com/articles/opinion/opinion/full-repeal-50a-nypd-oversight.html

https://www.law.com/newyorklawjournal/2019/01/18/appeals-court-rejects-bid-for-open-access-to-police-personnel-records/

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