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Updated: May 4, 2020, 7:20 PM

PBA president calls for end to cops’ role in coronavirus social distancing enforcement

By Paul Liotta

STATEN ISLAND, N.Y. -- Police Benevolent Association President Pat Lynch called on the city Monday to end NYPD officers’ role in enforcing the state’s coronavirus social distancing mandates.

The statement comes after bystanders on Saturday videoed an officer approach a man in Manhattan’s East Village with his taser drawn, holster the taser, take the individual to the ground, repeatedly strike him, and proceed to detain him by kneeling on his neck.

In the video, the individual can be seen not following the officer’s order to back up from an ongoing arrest at East Ninth Street and Avenue D, which Police Commissioner Dermott Shea said began as a social distancing enforcement.

“This situation is untenable: The NYPD needs to get cops out of the social distancing enforcement business altogether," Lynch said. “The cowards who run this city have given us nothing but vague guidelines and mixed messages, leaving the cops on the street corners to fend for ourselves.”

The NYPD, and the office of Mayor Bill de Blasio did not respond to requests for comment on Lynch’s statement or information on the guidelines officers have received. A spokesperson for the department said the officer had been placed on modified duty, and that the matter is under internal review.

Under New York’s current state of emergency, Gov. Andrew Cuomo has the authority to suspend or modify state and local statutes in the interest of public safety. Cuomo has issued multiple executive orders since the state began to address the COVID-19 outbreak on March 7.

A spokesperson for Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s office shared guidance around his “New York on Pause” mandates, which went into effect March 22, and will remain in place until at least May 15. The publicly-announced 10-point plan involved the shuttering of non-essential businesses and a stay on all social gatherings.

Cuomo’s office has presented extensive guidance on what defines an essential business, and labeled all “non-essential gatherings of individuals of any size for any reason" as violations of his mandates.

The guidance his office published April 1 offers a number of options on how to deal with people violating social distancing, ranging from verbal and written warnings to a misdemeanor violation of the public health law that can result in fines of $10,000 and one year in prison.

De Blaiso addressed the East Village incident during his Monday press briefing saying that he found the incident “very troubling,” and pointed to trainings that have focused on deescalation and neighborhood policing.

“What I saw was absolutely unacceptable and obviously discipline was swift by the NYPD, but I want to note that that video is more and more of a rarity,” he said. “We still have work to do, unquestionably, but the progress is very clear to see; policing is changing and the city has been changing.”

Shea said the incident resulted in three arrests, and echoed the mayor’s sentiment regarding changes to police training. Over the weekend, the NYPD issued at least 100 summonses related to social distancing.

“I wish it was 100% effective, but that’s not, unfortunately, the world that we live in,” Shea said.