New York Attorney General Letitia James announced legislation on Friday aimed at establishing more stringent use-of-force guidelines for all law enforcement officers across the state.
The package, known as the Police Accountability Act, seeks to amend current state laws that have "essentially given police blanket defense to use force in interactions with the public," James said. If passed, it would require that police exhaust de-escalation tactics prior to using force as a "last resort."
A similar measure was adopted by New Jersey's State Attorney General Gurbir Grewal last year.
The proposed New York legislation would also raise the standards in which police are permitted to use deadly force, requiring that officers have reasonable belief that a suspect "would cause death or serious bodily injury to another if not immediately apprehended." Under the current law, officers may use lethal force based on a belief that an individual committed a certain felony offense.
"While there are legitimate reasons that police have special protections, those protections shouldn’t preclude them from being held accountable when they needlessly take the life of another person," James said at a press conference on Friday.
She was joined by Senate Deputy Leader Michael Gianaris, State Senator Kevin Parker, Assemblymember Nick Perry, and Assemblymember Catalina Cruz, all of whom said they will work to pass the legislation.
The legal changes would help James' office prosecute cases in which officers use excessive or deadly force on the public. More than five years after Governor Andrew Cuomo gave control of police killing cases to the Attorney General, the state prosecutor has undertaken at least 43 investigations, but secured no convictions.
Michael Sisitzky, senior policy counsel at New York Civil Liberties Union, described the proposal as an important part of a broader police reform agenda needed in the state. He pointed to the "overwhelming level of state violence" used by police against protesters during last summer's George Floyd demonstrations.
Earlier this year, James sued the NYPD over its treatment of Black Lives Matter protesters, calling for a federal court-appointed monitor to oversee changes in the department.
In a statement, Police Benevolent Association President Pat Lynch said the 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," he added.
Inquiries to the NYPD were not returned.