(NEW YORK) — A new police reform bill in New York seeks to make use of force a last resort only justifiable after de-escalation, verbal warnings and non-lethal force strategies are exhausted.

New York Attorney General Letitia James proposed the Police Accountability Act on Friday, saying current laws set a standard that makes it difficult to prosecute officers who abuse use of force.

The legislation seeks to lower the standard for prosecuting officers who improperly use excessive or deadly force and establish criminal penalties.

Under the legislation, officers will no longer be able to justify use of lethal force based on suspicion of a crime.

“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 Friday. “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.”

She said “we are in the midst of a racial reckoning in this country” during a Friday press conference, citing the deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and Daunte Wright, who were all fatally shot by police.

“Last month, we saw a police officer convicted for the murder of George Floyd. But the Derek Chauvin verdict is exactly the exception that proves the rule, accountability in these cases is rare,” she said.  She said less than 2% of officers are charged and only about a quarter of those are convicted in excessive force cases, citing data from the Mapping Police Violence Project, a group that collects data on police killings nationwide. The group reports that 98.3% of killings by police from 2013 to 2020 have not resulted in officers being charged with a crime.

The bill is sponsored by top Democrats in the state including State Sen. Kevin Parker and Assemblymember N. Nick Perry.

The legislation drew support from Gwen Carr, mother of Eric Garner, whose chokehold death in NYPD custody established the “I can’t breathe” rallying cry for criminal justice reform protests around the country.

“There is no question that our criminal justice system is in need of drastic reform,” Carr said during a Friday press conference for the act. “For far too long, police officers have gotten away with putting people’s lives in danger without facing consequence of any kind. Not only is that unjust, but it’s deeply painful for those of us who have lost family members to police violence.”

However, the new proposed legislation has received backlash from the city’s largest police union, the Police Benevolent Association of the New York City.

“This sweeping proposal would make it impossible for police officers to determine whether or not we are permitted to use force in a given situation. The only reasonable solution will be to avoid confrontations where force might become necessary. 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,” PBA President Patrick J. Lynch said in a statement.

 

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