July 6, 2015 5:00 pm


Bratton, PBA to Council: Don’t Fence In Cops With Bills Intruding on NYPD

De Blasio Also Opposed to Proposed Changes


City Council photo/William Alatriste
DON’T NEED THEM, DON’T WANT THEM: Police Commissioner William J. Bratton's face reflects his mood during a City Council hearing at which he said that nine bills introduced in the Council to govern aspects of NYPD operations should all be rejected. He called two of the bills, which would criminalize chokeholds and limit the use of force, ‘unprecedented intrusions into the operational management of the NYPD.’ To his left, Deputy Commissioner for Legal Matters Lawrence Byrne answers a Council Member’s question.

The Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association, Police Commissioner William J. Bratton and Mayor de Blasio all have a message for the City Council: You’re butting too far into police business.

PATRICK J. LYNCH: Leave police policy to the experts.  

At a City Council hearing June 29, Councilwoman Vanessa Gibson, chair of the Public Safety Committee, explained the rationale for the nine bills at issue that are aimed at regulating the NYPD.

‘Systemic Problems’

“We feel there are systemic problems that must be addressed,” she said. “We can all acknowledge the strained relationship that law enforcement has had in our city and in particular in low-income communities of color.” The Police Department still had a way to go to address “aggressive, abusive and discriminatory policing,” she said.

Mr. Bratton said he opposed all nine bills, which seek to limit police use of force, increase scrutiny of officers repeatedly accused of brutality, add to reporting requirements and further regulate officers’ behavior.

He referred to bills that would make it a misdemeanor for an officer to use a chokehold and require cops to use only the minimum amount of force necessary to make an arrest as “unprecedented intrusions into the operational management of the NYPD.”

Such issues are already regulated by the state Criminal Procedure Law and the Police Commissioner, and that’s how it should stay, he said. On proposals to increase reporting of the highest-crime areas and officers with significant numbers of complaints, he said, information changes day-to-day.

Some Steps Not New

Police Department rules already require officers to identify themselves, he said. Some of the points raised by the Council, he continued, are already being addressed by the department in the form of revised regulations or expanded training. Adding a little bit of honey to counteract the vinegar, he said other issues could be dealt with in negotiations with Council Members rather than by passing laws, which he added are more difficult to change than police policies.

“I see we’re batting 0 for 9, in baseball talk,” Ms. Gibson said after he finished.

The day before the hearing, PBA President Patrick J. Lynch said that “these proposals are neither practical nor workable and simply do not recognize the inherent dangers police officers face.”

Inhibit Cops From Acting

“The PBA is calling upon the Council to consider the negative impact of previously-passed law-enforcement legislation on crime-fighting before adopting any new laws,” the union said in a statement.

“A survey conducted of PBA members by the NYPD indicates that 66 percent are fearful of being sued for being proactive in their crime-fighting thanks to a local law established by the Council last year that allows the public to sue police officers. And 85 percent say they are concerned that proactive policing will result in civilian complaints that, even when unproven, can have a negative impact their careers.”

The law passed last year allows people who feel they have been targeted for police action for demographic reasons rather than because they were involved in crime to sue individual officers personally. The law says that judges cannot award financial damages, but the PBA and other police unions argue that provisions allowing officers to be assessed legal fees could cause their members financial hardship.

In his testimony, Mr. Bratton noted that the bill requiring reporting on officers who face many complaints and lawsuits pivoted on unproven allegations rather than findings of guilt.

‘A Further Chilling Impact’

“These proposed laws—which cover everything from officers’ identification, rules for searches and the use of physical force—are unnecessary and redundant and could have a further chilling impact on law enforcement that will make our streets more dangerous,” Mr. Lynch said.

“While they may be well-intentioned, these pieces of legislation have been proposed by individuals who have neither the expertise nor the experience to establish policy in the dangerous business of fighting crime and maintaining public safety. Policing policies must be left to the police management who understand the intricacies and difficulties of complex legal issues and the appropriate use of crime-fighting tactics.

“Our main concern is that proactive law enforcement, the type of policing that has made this city safe, will cease and will not return until the over-regulation and onerous burdens already placed on police officers are rolled back,” he said.

Mayor: Wrong Way to Go

Mr. de Blasio was asked at a press conference about the chokehold legislation and the Right to Know Bill, which includes the rules about officers identifying themselves and gaining consent for searches. “I have concerns with all three pieces of legislation and I think there’s a better way forward,” he said.

He said last fall that chokeholds should remain a matter of department policy and should not be criminalized. “There are some exceptional situations,” he said. “I want to respect our men and women in uniform who may be put into a life-and-death situation, literally one-on-one, them and a perpetrator who could...mean to kill them; and they have to defend themselves—and that might involve a chokehold.”

Chokeholds became a flashpoint last July when Police Officer Daniel Pantaleo was videotaped throwing his arm around the neck of Eric Garner to bring him to the ground after he resisted arrest for allegedly selling loose cigarettes. Mr. Garner, a petty criminal who was obese and in poor health, died of a heart attack shortly thereafter.

The Office of Chief Medical Examiner said Mr. Pantaleo had used a chokehold, but the officer told a Staten Island grand jury that eventually declined to indict him that it was another hold he had learned at the Police Academy.

Says NYPD Hasn’t Acted

Councilman Rory Lancman, who sponsored the chokehold and use-of-force-limit bills, defended the Council’s efforts.

“Each of us has seen a problem in neighborhoods and communities in our districts and in the city at large that is pressing, real and not being addressed,” he told Mr. Bratton. “That’s why we put forward this legislation.”

Referring to chokeholds, he said that 30 years of increasingly strict prohibitions under department policy had not stopped their use.

The NYPD officially banned them in 1993, a year before Officer Francis Livoti used one against Anthony Baez during an argument after his football accidentally struck Mr. Livoti’s patrol car. Mr. Baez died as a result of the struggle; Mr. Livoti was acquitted of criminal charges in state court, but then fired by the NYPD and sentenced to seven years in Federal prison for violating Mr. Baez’s civil rights.

Mr. Bratton replied that the current policy was being changed to incorporate the broad definition of chokeholds contained in Mr. Lancman’s bill. There may be “exigent circumstances” an officer would use such a hold—possibly defending his or her own life or someone else’s—and the department would consider those circumstances when considering possible discipline, he said. That’s different from criminalizing it, he added.

Not a Crime Elsewhere

Mr. Lancman argued that if the law was passed, officers could cite self-defense if criminally charged. Lawrence Byrne, Deputy Commissioner for Legal Matters, said that no state has a law making it a crime for a police officer to use a chokehold.

Mr. Lancman issued a statement after the hearing saying, “I was disappointed, but not surprised, that the NYPD came to the hearing opposed to all of the Council’s proposals. Unfortunately, it has been the pattern of the department to resist all attempts at reform for as long as I can recall. We know that reform is necessary, however, when it’s been almost a year since Eric Garner’s death and no one has been held accountable.”

Relatives of a handful of New Yorkers who died at the hands of police issued a statement saying, “As family members of New Yorkers killed by the NYPD over the past two decades, we know firsthand that the rights of New Yorkers are too often disregarded by the NYPD. There’s a clear imbalance of power between police officers and community members in daily interactions, and the rights of New Yorkers must be protected. There must be accountability, transparency and respectful communication in the most common daily interactions, whether on the street, in our cars or in our homes.”

The nine signers included Mr. Garner’s mother, Gwen Carr; Valerie Bell, mother of Sean Bell, who was killed in 2006 outside a club on the eve of his wedding; and Constance Malcom, mother of Ramarley Graham, a teenager killed by a narcotics officer who pursued him into his grandmother’s bathroom.