New York attorney general Letitia James introduced a measure on Friday to tighten the rules for the use of force by law enforcement agencies.
It would lower what her office calls “an extremely high standard for tracking down police officers” who mistakenly take excessive or fatal measures.
The core piece of legislation would change the Use of Force Act “from a simple necessity to an absolute last resort, requiring police officers to use force only after all other alternatives have been exhausted,” James’ office said in a press release.
Referring to the memories of George Floyd and other unarmed men and women killed in clashes with the police, James at a news conference Friday afternoon linked those high-profile deaths directly to their push for police reform.
“At a time of race reckoning in this country, it is important that we reform the law and bring justice to all people who feel their lives don’t matter,” said James.
The bill was unveiled four days before the year-long anniversary of the murder of Floyd, whose death by former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin sparked a nationwide protest against police brutality and systemic racism.
Chauvin’s most recent conviction of murder and manslaughter is the “exception that proves the rule,” James said at the press conference.
She was accompanied by Gwen Carr, the mother of Eric Garner, an unarmed black who died in 2014 after the then police officer Daniel Pantaleo put him in a stranglehold. The Justice Department decided in 2019, under then Attorney General William Barr, not to bring charges against Pantaleo over Garner’s death.
James’ office is promoting the new law, dubbed the Police Accountability Act, as “the most far-reaching application of violence reform in the nation”.
But “this will not change the decisions officers have to make in a split second,” James assured in life-threatening situations, trying to avert inevitable criticism that the bill could affect the police’s ability to enforce the law and create a chilling effect Recruitment.
“There are reasonable safeguards officers need in situations like this,” said James. “That’s not what these reforms are about.”
The New York City Police Benevolent Association, a major police union, has blown the bill as a threat to the New York police force.
“This sweeping proposal would make it impossible for police officers to determine whether or not we should use force in a given situation,” union president Patrick Lynch said in a statement to CNBC.
“The only sensible solution will be to avoid confrontations that may require violence,” said Lynch. “In the meantime, violent criminals certainly do not hesitate to use force against police officers or our communities.”
“The bottom line: more cops and more regular New Yorkers are injured,” said Lynch.
By setting a “last resort” standard for the use of force, the law enforcement officers would first have to exploit alternative approaches, according to the Attorney General. These methods include “de-escalation, lesser violence, verbal warnings,” and other tactics.
The bill would also raise the standard of evidence of criminal behavior required to justify lethal violence. Current New York law allows officials to use lethal force “simply based on an official’s reasonable belief” that a person has committed a certain category of crime, according to James’ office.
In addition, the bill would allow prosecutors to examine whether an officer’s behavior led them to later use lethal force. It would also impose criminal penalties on officials who “use violence beyond what is justified in the circumstances,” the press release said.
“Currently, ‘excessive use of force’ is a poetry term in New York State. This important piece of legislation corrects that and defines it in law,” said Senator Kevin Parker, a New York State Democrat who ran the bill.