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NY attorney general seeks statewide use of force standard for police

New York Attorney General Letitia James.
New York Attorney General Letitia James.
New York Attorney General Letitia James.
Credit WMHT file photo
New York Attorney General Letitia James.

New York Attorney General Letitia James announced legislation on Friday that would limit the use of force legally allowed by police in New York.

James held a news conference at her New York City office Friday afternoon to unveil the “Police Accountability Act.” That bill would only allow for a use of lethal force as a last resort after an officer has made attempts at de-escalation and issued verbal warnings.

She said the recent racial justice movement started by the death of George Floyd is only a part of the motivation for the proposal.

“I don’t need to tell you the names. The death of George Floyd, Daniel Prude, Duante Wright, Breonna Taylor, Eric Garner, and the list goes on,” James said.

“And this has rekindled a flame of righteousness, and righteous indignation that has been smoldering for centuries. We are in the midst of a racial reckoning in this country,” she added.

James said that in most instances, officers are not charged with or convicted of a crime in cases of a police-involved civilian death. The legislation is aimed at changing that, she said.

The measure would also add three changes to the state’s penal law, with the addition of “Excessive Use of Force by a Police Officer or Peace Officer” in the first, second, and third degrees.

Senate sponsor Kevin Parker, a Democrat from Brooklyn, said the idea builds on previous legislation that the Legislature has passed for the same purpose.

“Also, I passed a law that creates an office of police misconduct, right here in the Attorney General’s Office,” Parker said.

“That set of legislation, although important, was really just the first step on a long journey that we have to take in this state, to make sure that we have a police department that serves and protects, but does it with dignity and respect.”

The measure is sponsored in the Assembly by Assemblyman Nick Perry, also a Democrat from Brooklyn.

Also at Friday’s announcement was Gwen Carr, the mother of Eric Garner, who died during a police interaction in Staten Island in 2014. Carr said that if police had followed protocol, or if there was accountability, her son would be alive today.

“As you know, almost seven years ago, my son was murdered by NYPD. He said ‘I can’t breathe’ 11 times, and 11 times they decided not to let him live,” Carr said.

The New York City Police Benevolent Association, the union representing officers in New York City, said in a statement Friday that it was opposed to the measure.

“This sweeping proposal would make it impossible for police officers to determine whether or not we are permitted to use force in a given situation,” said Pat Lynch, president of the PBA.

“The only reasonable solution will be to avoid confrontations where force might become necessary. Meanwhile, violent criminals certainly aren’t hesitating to use force against police officers or our communities. The bottom line: More cops and more regular New Yorkers are going to get hurt.”

Concerning protocol, James said the law would essentially codify what police are already taught, and the standards that exist in their patrol guide, while still acknowledging times when a split-second decision needs to be made.

If passed, the bill would go into effect immediately.

Darrell Camp is a reporter with New York Now.

Copyright 2021 WXXI News