NEW YORK — After weeks of emotionally charged youth-led protests calling for sweeping reforms to root racism out of the criminal justice system in the streets, the New York City Council passed a package of bills today targeting the New York Police Department for major changes.
Council members mentioned victims of police brutality and their families such as Nicholas Heyward, father of a 13-year-old boy killed by an officer in 1994; Sean Bell, and Eric Garner. One council member, I. Daneek Miller, shared his own tragic childhood experience in 1976.
“I am dedicating my vote to my good friend, lost [as a teenager] … to the hands of police officer Robert Torsney,” Miller said.
Randolph Evans was shot in the head by Torsney outside the Cypress Hills housing project after the NYPD received a call about a man with a gun. Torsney was charged with murder and later acquitted by reason of insanity. Tornsey was sent to Creedmoor Psychiatric Center in Queens but later released after an appeal.
The package of six bills bans chokeholds and other restraints used by police officers while conducting arrests, reaffirms the right to record police activity, prevents officers from shielding their badge numbers from the public, requires the NYPD to develop a “disciplinary matrix,” requires improvements to the NYPD’s system for identifying problematic officers and creates civilian oversight of the NYPD use of surveillance technologies.
Some of the bills passed are already part of existing NYPD protocols or legislation while some add to existing laws, according to a law enforcement source.
The bills are now heading to Mayor Bill de Blasio’s desk. De Blasio has announced that he plans to sign the chokehold bill, even though he opposed it back in 2015. The mayor also announced he plans to sign a bill requiring the NYPD to disclose their surveillance technology.
The City Council will meet next week to begin discussing New York City’s budget and moving $1 billion in funding from the NYPD to youth and social services.
The chokehold bill criminalizes the use of restraints that restrict the flow of air or blood by compressing another person’s windpipe or arteries in the neck or by putting pressure on the back or chest by a police officer making an arrest. The action would not be criminalized if the officer was acting in self-defense.
Officers found guilty would be charged with a class A misdemeanor regardless of whether there is an injury. The statewide ban on chokeholds, recently signed by Gov. Andrew Cuomo, only applies in cases of a serious injury or death.
“The NYPD banned chokeholds decades ago, but tell that to Eric Garner and the hundreds of men and women choked by police officers even since his death,” said Queens Council Member Rory Lancman. “Today the Council does what the NYPD has failed to do: Police the police by making it an actual crime for a cop to put someone in a chokehold or to sit, kneel or stand on them so they can’t breathe.”
Eric Garner, who was killed in Staten Island by former Police Officer Daniel Pantaleo in 2014, was also referred to in a bill sponsored by Public Advocate Jumaane Williams. Williams’ bill affirms the right to film police activities and allows people to sue in state court for any violation of this right.
Council Member Donovan Richards, a candidate in the race for Queens borough president and chair of the public safety committee, sponsored a bill that requires the NYPD to develop a “disciplinary matrix,” which gives a recommended range of penalties to officers for violations.
The matrix appears to be a reform on paper but the NYPD commissioner retains the ultimate discretion to override its recommendation. For transparency, the NYPD is required to report how often the commissioner deviates from the recommendation.
The Public Oversight of Surveillance Technology (POST) Act requires the reporting and evaluation of surveillance technologies used by the NYPD. The agency is required to issue a surveillance impact and use policy, including a description, capabilities, rules, processes and guidelines about the technology.
The Department of Investigation’s Inspector General for the NYPD will audit the surveillance impact and use policy to ensure compliance with its terms.
The final bill requires the NYPD to expand the categories of information included in its Early Intervention System. Now, information such as certain types of arrests, incidents of excessive force and ongoing disciplinary actions will be included.
“I think it’s really sad and disgraceful that we have to have these conversations and that we have to debate if black and brown people’s lives really matter and if we have to debate if it’s OK for us to live and for us to breathe.” Council Member Farah Louis said. “I think it’s really sad and disgraceful that we have to have a conversation about how black people are treated by law enforcement, how we’re treated inhumanely and like animals.”