WOODBURY - A New York state law that says the public does not have the right to know how police officers are disciplined within the department is under fire by critics.
Under New York civil rights law 50-a, no official information about officer discipline is released to the public. It was established in the 1970s to ensure that defense attorneys could not use past allegations to attack a police officer's character on the witness stand. Nassau PBA president James Carver tells News 12 it is needed to protect officers against what he calls "fishing expeditions."
Critics disagree, saying that there is a lack of transparency and accountability in Long Island’s police departments.
“Unfortunately, it’s often times used as a sword, rather than just a shield in state cases, including criminal cases,” says attorney Fred Brewington, who represented Jo’Anna Bird’s family in a suit against Nassau County.
Brewington won a settlement of more than $7 million after the family alleged the police department acted improperly.
In 2010, New York's Department of State Committee for Open Government called for the repeal of the 50-a law. The committee's executive director told Newsday that the idea of a repeal has fallen flat with state lawmakers. Brewington says the political influence of police unions is the reason.
“No single legislator, state legislator, county legislator, wants to have the police as their enemy,” says Brewington.
In New York City, a civilian complaint review board looks into complaints of police misconduct. Neither Nassau nor Suffolk counties has a similar board.
Former Nassau Police Commissioner Thomas Dale and Suffolk Police Commissioner Edward Webber declined a request to be interviewed for this report.