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The Future of Police Reform in New York City


MEGAN ZEREZ, HOST: On Tuesday, Minneapolis Police Officer Derek Chauvin became one of the few members of law enforcement to ever be convicted in the killing of an unarmed citizen. Since George Floyd's death last summer, New York has seen a range of efforts to reform policing. Advocates say one of the keys to accountability is access to internal police documents. Rachel Moran is an associate professor at the University of St. Thomas in Minneapolis. She recently authored a study on the release of police misconduct records.

Rachel Moran, thank you so much for being with us.


RACHEL MORAN: Sure. Thank you for having me.


ZEREZ: One of the big changes that we saw this past year was the repeal of a very controversial state law here in New York called 50-A, which sealed police misconduct records. What are some of the impacts that we might have seen, you know, since the repeal of that bill back in June of last year?


MORAN: Certainly one of the more tangible impacts is the release of information about police misconduct, particularly in New York City, but all over the state. And we've seen a lot of media outlets reporting on the number of police officers in the New York Police Department who have lengthy histories of misconduct that the public previously didn't know about or have access to and who have remained on the force with little or no discipline. Derek Chauvin had a lengthy history of misconduct allegations. Before the repeal of 50-A, if Derek Chauvin had killed George Floyd in New York, no one would even have been able to know how many misconduct allegations had been filed against Mr. Chauvin.


ZEREZ: Right. And, you know, unfortunately it's still a little bit difficult to access some of those misconduct records. Why might that be the case?


MORAN: Almost as soon as 50-A was repealed, police unions across the state started filing lawsuits to prevent release of the records. One other piece of it is the law prevented public access. And so when it was repealed, the public now in theory is able to review information about complaints that have been filed against police officers. But I say in theory, because in practice, it's not like you can just walk into a police department and get this information. You generally have to file a public records request, and then it can take a while for that information to be released.


ZEREZ: Right. Some folks have pointed out that there's a big difference between increased transparency and accountability.


MORAN: We can say you have access to the information, but if nobody cares to access it, and to read it, and to see the histories of misconduct and to voice concern, then real change is probably not going to happen.


I mean, I'm right here in Minneapolis. Our law school is a 15-minute walk from the site of the courthouse where Mr. Chauvin was just convicted. We were in the heart of the protests last summer. And it's just an, it's a, it's a constant reminder to me. I don't think this, I don't think this conviction would have happened. I don't think, I don't think 50 A would have been repealed had it not been for people on the ground saying, enough is enough. We're not going to tolerate this and the the mass mass protests that occurred after that murder.


ZEREZ: You know, we're looking towards the mayoral election. We've seen a lot of different proposals and a lot of different promises. What should we be looking for next in potential police reforms here in New York City?


MORAN: A lot of states are starting to question the laws that enable officers to routinely stop people, often people of color for violating some extremely minor law, because really, they're using that alleged violation as a chance to stop and question and search a person. And I think that's something that New Yorkers should be on the lookout for as well. Certainly given New York Police Department’s history of stopping and frisking people of color illegally.


ZEREZ: Rachel Moran is an associate professor at the University of St. Thomas. Rachel, thank you so much for being with us today.


MORAN: For sure. Thank you.




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