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Cuomo plans broad changes for criminal justice after Eric Garner case

ALBANY -- Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo Thursday promised broad legislative action following a grand jury's decision not to indict a police officer in the death of Eric Garner.

"We have a large segment of the population that believes they do not get justice," Cuomo told public radio's "Capitol Pressroom." "And it is not just this case, it is not just this year."

Cuomo said new laws and procedures are needed in police training and the grand jury process as part of wide-ranging changes. He said he plans to push for those in the upcoming legislative session after a Staten Island grand jury decided Wednesday not to charge a New York City police officer in the July death of the unarmed Garner while he was in what appeared to be a chokehold.

"I think long-term this is something we have to look at in the coming session," Cuomo said. "I think we need a comprehensive look. This is about race relations, this is about police training . . . this is about transparency, this is about accountability, this is about diversity in the police force. It's all of the above, and it's about the grand jury process."

Meanwhile, Sen. Andrea Stewart-Cousins (D-Yonkers) said the Garner case, and the recent decision by a grand jury in Missouri not to indict a police officer in the fatal shooting of Michael Brown, are part of a pattern.

"The reality is that these two incidents happening one after another underscore the concern," said the Senate minority party leader, who is the state's top African-American official.

A criminal justice professor, however, warned against a rush to judgment in the Garner case.

"To me, it was very far from what I would consider a chokehold," said Maria Haberfeld, chairwoman of the Department of Law, Police Science and Criminal Justice Administration at John Jay College.

She said the public is wrongly vilifying the officer and the New York City Police Department because of a few cases which, while tragic, are a fraction of the thousands of encounters police have daily with people.

"This happens to be a bad time now, and it's hard to talk about numbers when talking about human life, but we have to realize police out there are really not that trigger happy or abusive as people are led to believe judging from a handful of incidents," Haberfeld said.

Noting that the NYPD's policy book is 2,000 pages long, Haberfeld said that rather than creating more rules, policy agencies should look at who they recruit, how they select and train officers, how they supervise them and how they discipline them.

Michael Benjamin, a former Bronx assemblyman, is pessimistic of any lasting change from this latest tragedy.

"The real issue is discrimination and racism," he said. "You can change things if you talk about it. But people are afraid to talk about it."

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