In the wake of George Floyd’s death at the hands of a Minneapolis cop, New York state legislative leaders rushed to pass a host of police-reform measures, with no rhyme or reason.
One bill is awful: It creates a right to sue if you think you’ve been racially profiled – a huge gift to ambulance-chasing lawyers.
A couple is fine: Criminalizing the use of chokeholds may be unnecessary – the NYPD already has bans them, after all. But it sends the right signal if New York law enforcement is to have the support and cooperation of all the communities it serves.
And at long last the repeal of the 50-a law, which treats individual officers’ discipline records as top secret. For far too long, this has made it near-impossible for the public and press to identify bad cops.
But the rest of the package is, at best, smoke and mirrors.
The Police Statistics and Transparency Act, for one, mandates statewide collection and reporting of policing data “to promote transparency and evaluate the effectiveness of existing criminal-justice policies.” More paperwork don’t solve any police misconduct problems – or remotely placate nightly marchers.
Another bill requires police departments to “promptly report the discharge of a firearm.” Are they anyway?
The State Police have already moved to require body cameras for all troopers, so a law requiring it was unnecessary. And formally banning cops from interfering with citizens recording videos creates no new rights.
The silliest may be the “Amy Cooper law,” criminalizing the false reporting and biased misuse of 911 for “racially or ethnically motivated fear complaints”: 911 abuse was already illegal; This is just pandering to social-media hysteria.
Lawmakers need to avoid rolling over to cop unions with laws like 50-a, but beyond that that’s a matter for the mayors and other electeds who actually control police departments.
The fact of the matter is that truly improving policing is an executive mission, not a legislative one: dealing with training, managing and changing the culture – and nothing can make it happen overnight.