the resolution of cases. Concerns in these core areas were brought to the Panel’s attention by numerous stakeholders.
Lack of transparency was one of the most frequent complaints that the Panel heard about the Department’s disciplinary process. Although certain oversight entities issue regular reports, the Department itself releases minimal data to the public on disciplinary outcomes or decision making. The absence of such information has engendered mistrust in the community, which questions whether the Department is sufficiently policing its own.
To its credit, the Department recognizes the need to move toward greater transparency, and would like to do so. Civil Rights Law § 50–a, however, which prohibits the Department from releasing police “personnel records” to the public, poses significant obstacles to achieving that goal. The Panel recommends that the Department strongly support legislative efforts to amend Civil Rights Law § 50–a. The current law keeps the public in the dark about police discipline, breeds mistrust, and reduces accountability. Public confidence is vital to the Department’s mission, and a shrouded disciplinary process undermines that confidence.
The Department should also guard against efforts to expand § 50–a beyond its required scope. The definition of “personnel record” should be carefully and correctly interpreted so that investigative information, such as body-worn camera footage, is excluded from § 50–a’s restrictions. Finally, the Panel recommends that the Department reconsider whether it can, under existing law, begin publishing trial room calendars in order to provide the public and interested constituencies more meaningful access to disciplinary trials.
By law, the Police Commissioner has complete authority over all disciplinary determinations for members of the service. He reviews all disciplinary findings and penalty recommendations, and determines what, if any, discipline is warranted. While the Commissioner considers the recommendations he receives from the various internal and external entities and offices involved in the disciplinary process, he has complete discretion to overturn a finding of guilt or modify any recommended penalties. If the Commissioner departs from a recommendation, he must, in certain but not all cases, state the bases for that departure in a written memorandum. The Department has no written guidelines that inform the Commissioner’s discretion in making or explaining his decisions. Currently, neither the Commissioner’s decisions nor his explanations are made public.
The Panel found no evidence that the Commissioner, who takes his disciplinary role very seriously, has abused his power. The Panel nevertheless cannot evaluate whether appropriate or consistent discipline was imposed generally or in particular cases. One relatively modest, but important recommendation the Panel offers to promote greater transparency and accountability is
 A police officer may challenge the Police Commissioner’s disciplinary decisions by instituting an Article 78 proceeding. Montella v. Bratton, 93 N.Y.2d 424, 430 (1999). In such a proceeding, the penalty imposed by the Commissioner may be reversed only if it is “so disproportionate to the offense as to be shocking to one’s sense of fairness.” Trotta v. Ward, 77 N.Y.2d 827, 828 (1991).