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NYC council weighing changes to law limiting how cops subdue suspects

NYC Council speaker Corey Johnson said Wednesday that

NYC Council speaker Corey Johnson said Wednesday that changes are being considered to a law that limits how cops can subdue suspects. Credit: Jeff Bachner

The New York City Council will consider changes to the so-called diaphragm law, a measure putting limits on how police subdue suspects but seen by critics as hamstringing the NYPD amid a spike in violence.

In an interview Wednesday with Brian Lehrer on WNYC radio, City Council Speaker Corey Johnson acknowledged that members will be talking with their constituents shortly and hearings could begin soon.

“I think this is an important conversation that has to be had with members of color of the council and advocates,” said Johnson, adding that opponents of the use of chokeholds by police, a tactic banned by the NYPD years ago, also had a role to play.

Some city officials and others have said they believe concern about the law has led to a slowdown of cops making arrests.

The fact that the law is under review appeared to be a tacit acknowledgment of criticism that it can inhibit police taking proactive action and has contributed to the spike in shootings this summer, mostly in minority neighborhoods. Johnson said he found the increase in shootings “scary” but didn’t know if there was any slowdown by cops.

While Johnson wasn’t specific as to when hearings would begin, reportedly they could start as early as next week. The diaphragm law was signed by Mayor Bill de Blasio in the spring and makes officers potentially subject to criminal prosecution for a misdemeanor if they kneel, sit or stand on a suspect while making an arrest in a way that constricts the person’s. diaphragm.

The measure, which is different then the state law barring chokeholds passed earlier in Albany as part of a round of police reform measures, was immediately criticized by NYPD brass as making cops fearful they could be prosecuted for incidental contact during a struggle. Law enforcement officials also questioned the measure's constitutionality and said it was vague and likely preempted by state regulations.

Johnson didn’t say what specific change was being contemplated. But reportedly, the council was considering adding a requirement that the cops conduct would have to be reckless while subduing a suspect for it to rise to the level of violating the law.

Police organizations were not heartened by news of the possible changes and said the entire diaphragm measure should be eliminated.

“Nothing short of a full repeal can repair the damage from this insane law,” Police Benevolent Association president Patrick Lynch said in a statement. “That won’t happen because the Mayor and City Council have no intention of actually fixing this problem.”

Concern about the law has led some law enforcement agencies outside of New York City, including Long Island, to either bar their officers from entering city limits, or restrict activities in the five boroughs.

In his daily media briefing Wednesday, de Blasio said any changes wouldn’t affect the current ban on chokeholds but just clarify the diaphragm law. He also acknowledged that communities and politicians have grown increasingly restive over the upsurge in shootings.

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