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De Blasio would veto bill criminalizing police chokeholds

New York Mayor Bill de Blasio gives an

New York Mayor Bill de Blasio gives an interview with The Associated Press at City Hall, in this Wednesday, April 9, 2014. Credit: AP

Mayor Bill de Blasio's office Tuesday threatened to veto a City Council bill to criminalize chokeholds by police officers.

The mayor had repeatedly voiced opposition to the bill, but Tuesday was the first time the mayor, who has been in a protracted battle with police unions, said he would veto the bill if the council passed it. Spokesman Phil Walzak announced de Blasio's decision.

In November, the mayor said: "We have to be very careful, because there are some exceptional situations where an officer could be in, literally, a one-on-one struggle, life and death, and I don't think it's appropriate to say that in that kind of circumstance, we would put a legal prohibition."

Chokeholds were barred without exception under the NYPD's internal rules more than 20 years ago. The apparent use of a chokehold by an arresting officer figured in the death of Staten Islander Eric Garner in July.

The City Hall announcement came as one of de Blasio's harshest critics, Patrolmen's Benevolent Association president Patrick Lynch, faced shouts of disapproval from some PBA delegates over his demand that the mayor apologize to cops for comments he made empathizing with protesters after a grand jury declined to charge the officer in the Garner case.

PBA spokesman Al O'Leary called the incident during a meeting at a Queens restaurant a "dirty trick" by a dissident political faction in the run-up to union elections in June.

On another union front, the Lieutenants Benevolent Association drew up a list of steps de Blasio could take to remedy the "either real or perceived" estrangement between City Hall and the NYPD's ranks.

The lieutenants' union, in a letter, it said was delivered to City Hall, said de Blasio should call for the aggressive prosecution of cases of resisting arrest, assure cops that they would be defended against baseless lawsuits and push for the removal of what they view as inequitable tier system for police disability pensions.

In response, Walzak said de Blasio "looks forward to continuing the dialogue with the city's police unions on how together we can support the safety of the brave men and women who protect us every day." The mayor has voiced opposition on the pension issue, citing fiscal concerns.

The chokehold bill, proposed by Councilman Rory Lancman (D-Queens), would subject an officer who used the maneuver to a criminal penalty. Lancman said he hoped to allay the mayor's concerns and rework the legislation if needed with language the mayor would find palatable.

Lancman, who noted the bill has 29 sponsors in a chamber with 51 members, downplayed the mayor's threat of "the v-word," saying, "It's so early in the process to be playing threat and counterthreat."

Also Tuesday, a coalition of clergy staged a prayer vigil outside City Hall to give de Blasio support as he confronts attacks from the unions.

Police Commissioner William Bratton, appearing on NY1's "Inside City Hall," said there were ongoing private discussions with the unions and he is "optimistic over time that the current contretemps, as awful as they are, can be addressed and we can come to some common ground."

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