Wall Street Journal
November 14, 2014


City Council Introduces Bills to Further Restrict NYPD

Mayor and Police Commissioner Criticize Proposed Measures

By MARA GAY And PERVAIZ SHALLWANI

New York City police officers could be criminally charged for using chokeholds and would have to obtain consent from individuals before conducting searches under two bills introduced Thursday by the City Council.

Mayor Bill de Blasio and Police Commissioner William Bratton criticized the measures, saying they weren’t needed, would endanger officers and hamper their ability to do their jobs.

But supporters said the legislation was necessary to prevent the unfair targeting of black and Latino New Yorkers in street stops.

“When police power is used to the people’s detriment, we must respond accordingly, in this case, by clarifying the law. This bill is as clear and simple as they come,” said Councilman Robert Cornegy, a Democrat from Brooklyn and one of the chokehold bill’s three co-sponsors.

“No chokeholds—period. This tactic is simply too dangerous to be within the NYPD’s arsenal,” he said.

The chokehold came under scrutiny after it was allegedly used in mid-July to subdue Eric Garner, an unarmed Staten Island man.

Mr. Garner died after a police officer placed him in an apparent chokehold while arresting him for allegedly selling untaxed cigarettes.

Eugene O’Donnell, a professor at John Jay College of Criminal Justice, said the consent measure would defeat the purpose of searches, since a person with something to hide was unlikely to grant permission.

“The purpose of stop-and-frisk is to protect a cop,” said Mr. O’Donnell, a former New York police officer and prosecutor. “You are asking a cop who has reasonable suspicion that someone who has a gun, now you have a chat with them.”

Under the proposed measure, police wouldn’t have to ask for consent if there is a warrant or probable cause to believe a crime has been committed.

Mr. Blasio said he had “concerns” about the consent bill and that he didn’t support the chokehold bill because police might need the tactic for self-defense under “exceptional” circumstances.

Mr. Bratton accused lawmakers of a “continuing effort to bridle” NYPD policies and procedures.

“I think it’s a totally unnecessary intrusion into the workings of the department, a continuation of the potential to handicap the department’s ability to do its work effectively, work that has made this city a much safer place,” Mr. Bratton said in Midtown Manhattan before an unrelated event.

He said the bills would erode police officers’ authority in the eyes of the public.

“It would give the public a false impression that they have the ability to not respond to the police, and we already have too much of that under way at the moment,” he said.

City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito said she hasn’t made a decision about whether to support the bills.

Mr. O’Donnell called the bills “two terrible ideas.” He said making the use of chokeholds illegal would deprive officers of a street-fighting tool that could be vital in a life-or-death situation.

“The cops are improvising. They are dealing with totally unpredictable situations where they never know the ending,” he said.

He said any concerns about how police are doing their jobs could be addressed by department policy and training.

The NYPD is in the process of retraining all 35,000 officers on policy regarding use of force, a move that was announced in the days after Mr. Garner’s death. The training will also focus on teaching officers to be more respectful when making stops, department officials have said.

The NYPD, which already bans the use of chokeholds, has said it is reviewing its policy. The Los Angeles Police Department, where Mr. Bratton served as commissioner, and the Metropolitan Police Department in Washington, D.C., are among police agencies that in recent years have overhauled their policies on chokeholds, treating them as a deadly weapon that can only be used in extreme situations.

Patrick Lynch, the president of the Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association, a police union, called the chokehold bill “unnecessary,” saying there are already state laws governing the use of force by police.

Sgt. Edward Mullins, president of the Sergeants Benevolent Association union, said the chokehold bill was “political pandering.” He said using a chokehold was no different from a gun or any other weapon in a situation where officers were at risk.

“What the bill would do is really put police officers in danger,” he said.

Mr. Mullins said he hadn’t seen the consent bill, but believes there is room for agreement on some provisions, particularly on the use of video, audio and consent forms.

“This would be in many ways a good tool for officers to say, ‘You did give me consent and here it is,’ ” he said.