January 19, 2021, New York– Today, the Second Circuit Court of Appeals heard arguments in the case brought by New York City police unions (along with corrections and fire unions) to stop the City of New York from releasing officer misconduct and discipline records to the public following the June 2020 repeal of the police secrecy law 50-a, by the New York State Legislature.
“Ever since the legislature repealed 50-a, police unions have been trying to undermine and overturn the public will,” said Monifa Bandele (she/her), spokesperson for Communities United for Police Reform. “The legislature was right to lift the veil of secrecy that police departments have used to hide police misconduct and disciplinary records – and the outsized resources and power of police unions should not be allowed to infringe on the rights of everyday New Yorkers, including police violence survivors, families whose loved ones were killed by police, and the many groups who fought to repeal the police secrecy law, 50-a.”
“It’s long past time to make police misconduct and the NYPD’s systemic refusal to discipline abusive officers transparent. While we’re on the same side as the City in this case, it’s disappointing that they tried to argue in support of the right to make some decisions about transparency behind closed doors when we should all be clear that no government entity should be able to contract with private parties to get around FOIL and public transparency rights. We’re not a legal organization but we intervened in this case because the stakes are too high to allow the outsized power of police unions to overturn the will of New Yorkers and the intent of the state legislature.”
Last year, the district court denied, with one limited exception, police unions’ request for a preliminary injunction to block the City of New York from publishing officer misconduct databases. Police unions (along with corrections and fire unions) are appealing the district court decision in the Second Circuit, seeking to overturn the district court’s ruling that allowed for the vast majority of misconduct and disciplinary records to be made public. Tiffany Wright, attorney at Orrick, Herrington & Sutcliffe, argued for Communities United for Police Reform (CPR) today.
Communities United for Police Reform sought – and was granted by the court – permission to intervene in the police unions’ attempt to re-entrench police secrecy and joined the City in oral argument today, opposing the police unions’ appeal. CPR is also cross-appealing to allow for release of the narrow category of records on which the district court granted temporary injunctive relief. CPR is represented by Orrick, Herrington & Sutcliffe and the Center for Constitutional Rights.
In June 2020, the New York State legislature passed - and Governor Cuomo signed - the historic repeal of 50-a, the infamous police secrecy law that was used by police departments to hide police misconduct and discipline from the public. Communities United for Police Reform led the statewide coalition and campaign that won #Repeal50a.
On July 14, the five NYPD police unions, along with the corrections and firefighter unions, filed a lawsuit in state court to block the City of New York from publishing databases with police, corrections or firefighter misconduct information that isn't substantiated and final. The litigation was moved to federal court.
On July 29, CPR represented by the Center for Constitutional Rights and the law firm Orrick, Herrington & Sutcliffe, filed a motion to intervene, which was granted in August.
On August 21, U.S. District Court Judge Katherine Polk Failla denied police unions’ request for a preliminary injunction to block the City of New York from publishing officer misconduct databases, with one limited exception. Police unions (along with corrections and fire unions) are appealing the district court decision in the Second Circuit.
Through their litigation, the police unions are seeking to use the courts to roll back 50-a, re-entrench police secrecy, and undermine the public’s right to transparency and access to information.
About Communities United for Police Reform
Communities United for Police Reform (CPR) is an unprecedented campaign to end abusive and discriminatory policing practices in New York, and to build a lasting movement that promotes public safety and reduces reliance on policing. CPR runs coalitions of over 200 local, statewide and national organizations, bringing together a movement of community members, lawyers, researchers and activists to work for change. The partners in this campaign come from all 5 boroughs, from all walks of life and represent many of those most unfairly targeted by the NYPD.
About Orrick, Herrington & Sutcliffe LLP
Orrick’s pro bono program has been praised for the dedication of its lawyers to supporting diverse causes with tangible results—including high-profile immigration disputes, civil rights litigation and grassroots global development through an innovative impact finance and social enterprise initiative. Orrick strategically allocates its pro bono resources to ensure that each lawyer’s work has the maximum impact for the client and the community.
The Center for Constitutional Rights works with communities under threat to fight for justice and liberation through litigation, advocacy, and strategic communications. Since 1966, the Center for Constitutional Rights has taken on oppressive systems of power, including structural racism, gender oppression, economic inequity, and governmental overreach. Learn more at ccrjustice.org.