License & Registration: Addressing New York’s Police Misconduct

By Matthew Hanner

In the wake of the police killing of George Floyd, protesters flooded the streets demanding reform. States across the country responded with legislative action. Within weeks, New York State repealed Civil Rights Law § 50-a, which shielded disclosures of police misconduct records. The subsequent release of records showed the profound lack of accountability of police officers in the state. This Note argues that New York should enact a police licensing requirement to curb misconduct through uniform behavioral standards for all law enforcement officers, which would pull disciplinary power away from local departments, and prevent fired officers from regaining employment at other departments—problems that the existing remedies like internal affairs actions, civil suits, and criminal prosecutions fail to address.

Licensing creates stronger accountability because an independent state licensing commission would have the power to suspend or revoke licenses for violating professional standards. Currently, all states certify that officers meet certain standards prior to employment, and 46 states allow for revocation of these certifications. Certification boards vary state-to-state, however, in their scope of authority and permitted grounds for decertification. New York State only permits decertification of officers who are first fired from their departments. This process suffers from reliance on local department action. Examining the NYPD demonstrates how even the most well-resourced departments fail to adequately address officer misconduct when disciplinary decisions are made at the local level. Police licensing shifts authority to the state, following many other professions that already require licensing (lawyers, doctors, barbers, taxi drivers, etc.).

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