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NY lawmakers approve landmark police-oversight measures

Assembly Majority Leader Crystal D. Peoples-Stokes, D- Buffalo,

Assembly Majority Leader Crystal D. Peoples-Stokes, D- Buffalo, speaks in favor of new legislation for police reform while standing with Assembly members during a news briefing at the state Capitol Monday, June 8, in Albany, N.Y.  Credit: AP/Hans Pennink

ALBANY — Calling it the “right moment for the right reason,” the State Senate and Assembly on Monday approved a raft of landmark police-oversight measures that had been stalled for years prior to the death of George Floyd.

The Legislature Monday passed measures to establish a “right to record police activity,” outlaw chokeholds by police and mandate courts collect data on more than 20 demographic metrics for any arrest.

On Tuesday and Wednesday, the houses will take up other high-profile proposals such as repealing a law that kept police disciplinary records secret, establishing a unit of the Attorney General’s Office to review misconduct complaints, and mandating body-worn cameras for any state trooper on patrol.

Some of the measures had been blocked in the past by the Republican-controlled Senate. When the Democrats took command of both houses in 2019, they approved far-reaching bills on bail practices and prosecutorial misconduct, but delayed action on others out of a concern that pushing too quickly to the political left on criminal justice might hurt moderate Democrats in elections.

But those considerations were set aside following the death of Floyd in Minnesota and a flood of nationwide protests against police brutality.

“I think, for all of us in these important positions, you have to do what is right at the right moment for the right reason,” Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins (D-Yonkers) said. “You can’t miss opportunities, when they present themselves, to create real change.”

Others called it a transformative moment for the Legislature.

“We have taken this moment of loss and mourning, pain and frustration, angst and revolt, and channeled our influence and power to transform the policing procedures of New York State,” Assemb. Tremaine Wright (D-Brooklyn), chairwoman of the Black Puerto Rican, Hispanic and Asian Legislative Caucus.

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo, also a Democrat, has voiced support for the chokehold ban and other measures in the Legislature’s agenda.

The Assembly got the ball rolling by approving a bill titled the “Eric Garner Anti-Chokehold Act,” a reference to the man killed by police in 2014 on Staten Island. With bipartisan support, the Assembly passed it, 140-3. The Senate followed, 62-0.

In Nassau County, police currently are allowed the use of a carotid restraint only if “deadly physical force is being asserted against a member of the department or another,” according to its use-of-force policy. The department said it does not teach its officers the chokehold.

Suffolk County’s policy instructs officers that carotid holds and chokeholds should “never be used unless an officer or another is in imminent danger of death or serious physical injury and all other measures to reasonably repel the attack have been exhausted.”

After the chokehold ban was approved, the Senate approved the "right to record police activity" bill, 60-2; the Assembly, 134-10.

The data collection bill also sailed through: 101-43 in the Assembly; 60-2 in the Senate. Some opposed it, contending it could be too burdensome and costly on small-town and small-city courts.

Legislators also approved a bill sparked by verbal dispute between a white woman with an unleashed dog in Manhattan’s Central Park and a black man who pointed out the rules in that section of the park.

The woman, Amy Cooper, called 911, falsely telling police an African-American man is “threatening myself and my dog.” She later apologized but was fired by from her job at an investment firm.

The bill would allow for civil lawsuits to be filed for “false reporting” incidents to 911 when such calls are “motivated by bias based on race, color” and other factors.

Republicans, outnumbered 105-42 in the Assembly, noted statutes already exist for charging someone with a crime for false reporting. Assemb. Phil Ramos (D-Brentwood) contended such complaints aren’t always pursued.

 “So, now, if they aren’t getting justice with the police department,” Ramos said, “they can now seek justice through” the courts.

 The Assembly approved it, 118-26; the Senate, 62-0.

With Nicole Fuller.

State & Region