Cuomo to sign 10-bill package of police reform bills today

ALBANY — Gov. Andrew Cuomo will sign a 10-bill package of criminal justice and police reform bills into law Friday, following a week of expedited votes by Albany lawmakers in the wake of police custody death of George Floyd, and the wave of nationwide protests and unrest that followed.

The bills were long held up in Albany by several factors: political gridlock borne of split Democratic and Republican power-sharing that ended in 2018, longstanding opposition by powerful police unions and lack of real influence from New York City.

Among the measures expecting to be signed include one banning police chokeholds, named after Eric Garner, the Staten Island man who died in police custody in 2014.

A video showing Garner shouting, “I can’t breathe,” turned into a national symbol of the Black Lives Matter movement.

A second will result in the repeal of New York’s civil rights law “50-a,” relating to the release of law enforcement officers’ disciplinary records and any complaints filed against them.

Originally designed to help protect the lives and families of police, firefighters and correctional officers during criminal investigations, broad interpretation of the law has resulted in stymied or denied requests by individuals and reporters for information concerning officers.

The new law — effective immediately once signed — will allow all records to be subject to Freedom of Information laws, except for personal information like home address, phone numbers or email addresses.

The other proposals include:

  • a “stats” bill requiring courts to compile and publish racial and other demographic data on all low level offenses, plus police departments must submit arrest-related deaths to the state
  • a measure rearing officers to report within six hours if they’ve discharged a weapon and a civilian could have been shot
  • a requirement that state police wear body cameras
  • a bill making false or hate-based 911 calls subject to civil penalties
  • legislation barring police from interfering with citizens recording videos
  • a law that would grant the state Attorney General to investigate cases when an individual dies in police custody or at the hands of an officer
  • a measure creating an independent investigative office in the state’s Law Department allowing powers to review, study and audit practices of law enforcement agencies
  • a bill requiring emergency medical attention be provided to suspects in custody

Cuomo is also expected to be joined by leaders the state Legislature, state Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins (D-Westchester) and Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie (D-The Bronx) in Manhattan.