Mayor de Blasio opposes bill to make chokehold illegal

Khorri Atkinson | 11/20/2014, 11:09 a.m.
A day before Queens Democratic City Councilman Rory Lancman introduced a package of bills that would criminalize the use of ...
Bill deBlasio

A day before Queens Democratic City Councilman Rory Lancman introduced a package of bills that would criminalize the use of chokeholds by NYPD officers, Mayor Bill de Blasio said he would not support such move, because there are some “extreme situations” in which an officer may be justified in using the maneuver.

“I think the best way to handle that is through NYPD policy,” said de Blasio. “There are some exceptional situations, and I want to respect our men and women in uniform who may be put into a life- and-death situation, literally one-on-one, them and a perpetrator who could literally mean to kill them, and they have to defend themselves—and that might involve a chokehold.”

De Blasio pointed out that the retraining of the entire police department, on a variety of police policies and practices, is a better way to address the issue.

“I don’t think it should be made a matter of a legal prohibition,” he added.

No law makes the use of chokeholds illegal, but the New York City Police Department’s guidelines makes clear that it is prohibited. However, it is still being used in some instances by officers.

The July 17 death of Staten Island man Eric Garner, who died moments after he was placed in a chokehold by officer Daniel Pantaleo, has triggered intense scrutiny. Garner was approached for allegedly selling untaxed cigarettes. A Staten Island grand jury began hearing evidence to determine if criminal charges are warranted. Pantaleo and the other officers were not arrested and charged. Relatives, activists and some City Council members argued that the use of force was unnecessary.

In an interview with the AmNews last week, before the bills were introduced, Lancman said one measure will ban chokeholds altogether. Officers who violates the law will be charged with a misdemeanor punishable by imprisonment of up to one year and a fine of up to $2500.

“The bill would make it clear that chokeholds will only be used depending on the situation the officers are in,” the lawmaker said.

Under another bill, officers may only use injurious physical force during the course of their duties as is proportionately necessary to protect themselves or others from the threat of harm or death, which they perceive to be imminent. Another measure requires the police department to produce annual reports about the incidents in which officers use force. Lancman said this will create transparency and allow the City Council to track how force is being used by officers.

The possibility of getting the bills passed and approved depends in large part on the support not only of de Blasio but also of Police Commissioner William Bratton and City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito. Recently, Bratton told reporters at an unrelated event that the bills are “totally unnecessary.”

“I’m not supportive of that at all,” the commissioner said. “It’s part of the continuing effort to bridle the police in the city of New York. We have significant policies and effective policies in the department already, so it would be an onerous and unnecessary intrusion, basically, into the procedures of the department.”

Mark-Viverito has not indicated whether she supports the proposed measures.

Patrick Lynch, president of the Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association, a police union, called the bills a “negative anti-police message” that is not in the best interest of safety for both the public and the police.

“This bill is unnecessary,” said Lynch. “There are already state laws—enacted with great care and consideration—that govern the use of any kind of force by police officers. The council’s meddling and uninformed proposals will prevent police officers from taking the actions that they reasonably believe they should to secure the situation in encounters with potentially armed and dangerous suspects.”