Police use of force would be legal only as an “absolute last resort,” the office of New York Attorney General Letitia James said Friday, endorsing a Democrat-sponsored bill in the state Legislature.
Current New York law allows “simple necessity” to justify an officer’s use of force, which sets an “exceedingly high standard” for prosecuting officers for deadly or excessive force, James’ office said in a release.
The Police Accountability Act would require law enforcement to exhaust every other option – such as de-escalation and verbal warnings — before resorting to force and would establish new criminal penalties for officers who use excessive force.
The plan drew immediate pushback from a police union leader. The president of the Police Benevolent Association of the City of New York claimed it would make it “impossible” for officers to determine if they could use force, FOX 5 of New York City reported.
“The only reasonable solution will be to avoid confrontations where force might become necessary,” PBA leader Patrick Lynch said. “Meanwhile, violent criminals certainly aren’t hesitating to use force against police officers or our communities. The bottom line: More cops and more regular New Yorkers are going to get hurt.”
“Violent criminals certainly aren’t hesitating to use force against police officers or our communities. The bottom line: More cops and more regular New Yorkers are going to get hurt.”
— Patrick Lynch, Police Benevolent Association of the City of New York
Patrick Lynch, president of the Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association of the City of New York, speaks in New York City, Aug. 2, 2019. (Associated Press)
James’ office defended the proposal, calling it the “most far-reaching use of force reform in the nation.”
“For far too long, police officers in this country have been able to evade accountability for the unjustified use of excessive and lethal force,” James said in a statement. “The Police Accountability Act will make critical and necessary changes to the law, providing clear and legitimate standards for when the use of force is acceptable and enacting real consequences for when an officer crosses that line.”
New York Attorney General Letitia James addresses a news conference at her office, in New York, Friday, May 21, 2021. (Associated Press)
The plan would also eliminate the provision allowing officers to use deadly force against a person thought to have committed certain kinds of felonies, FOX 5 in New York reported. Currently, officers can use deadly force on suspects believed to have committed those crimes “irrespective of whether the individual presents a danger to the officer or another person at the time.”
Under the plan, prosecutors could evaluate if an officer’s conduct that led to the use of force was justified or if it created an unnecessary situation, which current law doesn’t allow.
James said the plan would not apply to “split-second” decisions.
“When their life or the life of another individual is being threatened, it will not change those situations,” she said, according to FOX 5. “There are reasonable protections that officers need in situations like those and that should not change and will not change.”
State Sen. Kevin Parker, a Democrat who sponsored the bill, said the current use of the term “excessive use of force” in the state is arbitrary.
“This important legislation corrects that and defines it in the law,” he said. “This creates a reasonable expectation for law enforcement as well as the people of our great state. Thank you to the attorney general for your leadership on this important issue.”