In the wake of George Floyd’s death under a kneeling Minneapolis police officer, some New York State lawmakers are renewing calls for legislation designed to uncover police disciplinary records. But less than a year ago, state senators in both parties voted in favor of union-backed legislation that would make it harder to fire New York police officers credibly accused of using excessive force or other offenses.

On June 13, 2019, the Senate unanimously passed a bill  (S5803) that would make the final determination of disciplinary penalties a subject of collective bargaining. If such a measure ever became law, unions representing police and firefighters could negotiate for the same drawn-out, arbitrator-decided process that has made it difficult for the MTA to fire bus drivers with bad safety records and for New York State to discipline attendants who abuse disabled people.

The bill—which failed to pass in the Assembly and didn’t emerge from committee in this year’s pandemic-truncated session—was the most recent in a long line of attempts by police and fire unions to nullify a unanimous 2006 state Court of Appeals decision affirming the New York City police commissioner’s ultimate power over disciplinary matters in the NYPD.

This ruling, in turn, affirmed other local laws around the state that give local elected officials control of the police and fire disciplinary process. As Judge Robert Smith wrote in one of those cases, “the public interest in preserving official authority over the police remains powerful.”

Between 2006 and 2010, proposals to make all stages of police discipline a mandatory subject of collective bargaining were passed overwhelmingly by the Legislature, only to be vetoed by Governors Pataki, Spitzer and Paterson. When the same measure reached Governor Cuomo’s desk in 2014, he took the more passive approach of leaving it unsigned and allowing it to die via a pocket-veto. The bill passed the Senate in 2018 by a 62-0 vote, but died in the Assembly that year.

Among those voting for the measure in 2019: freshman Sen. Zellnor Myrie, D-Brooklyn, who said he was handcuffed and pepper-sprayed by police during Friday night protests at the Barclay Center in Brooklyn.

Previous versions of the discipline bargaining measure were sponsored by Sen. Martin Golden, a former police officer and conservative Republican from Bay Ridge, Brooklyn. The current version is sponsored by Sen. Andrew Gounardes, the “progressive” Democrat who unseated Golden in 2018.

About the Author

Ken Girardin

Ken Girardin is the Empire Center’s Director of Strategic Initiatives.

Read more by Ken Girardin

You may also like

Cuomo’s ‘Reinvent Policing’ Order Dodges Confrontation with Police Unions

Governor Cuomo has ordered local governments to “reinvent” their police departments or risk losing state and federal funding, but the back-up guidance from Cuomo's office sets up an arduous process that likely will conflict with other parts of state law. To put it plainly, the guidance shows the state’s “New York Tough” governor won’t take on its police unions. Read More

Big Apple Pols Have Played Both Sides in NYPD Fight

New York City’s police department has come under criticism in recent days, with some city officials saying NYPD funding should be reduced. But many of the same New York City Council members parroting calls to “defund” the NYPD were just a year ago pushing Mayor Bill de Blasio to give city cops a big pay hike. It’s a reminder that New York’s elected officials, no matter how principled, routinely don’t want to say “no” to public-sector unions. Read More

A lesson on apprenticeships

The raw politics behind giveaways to building trade unions were on display last week in Troy, a city outside Albany. Read More

Senate OKs less local say on cops

Many of the faces have changed, and so has the majority party, but the state Senate is more united than ever in its willingness to weaken disciplinary procedures for cops and firefighters accused of wrongdoing. Read More

Thompson, Taylor, and the MTA

Mayoral candidate Bill Thompson, currently the city comptroller, suggested privately to one of the city's powerhouse labor unions that the Taylor Law, which has governed public-sector labor relations in New York State for 42 years (with various amendments along the way), needs reform. Read More

Subscribe

Sign up to receive updates about Empire Center research, news and events in your email.

CONTACT INFORMATION

Empire Center for Public Policy
30 South Pearl St.
Suite 1210
Albany, NY 12207

Phone: 518-434-3100
Fax: 518-434-3130
E-Mail: info@empirecenter.org

About

The Empire Center is an independent, non-partisan, non-profit think tank located in Albany, New York. Our mission is to make New York a better place to live and work by promoting public policy reforms grounded in free-market principles, personal responsibility, and the ideals of effective and accountable government.