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Updated: May 21, 2021, 8:57 PM

AG James proposes changing deadly force standards for police

By Yancey Roy

ALBANY — Attorney General Letitia James and Democratic legislators have proposed a law that would change the standards under which police can use deadly force.

James, a Democrat, said the current use-of-force law should be changed "from one of simple necessity to one of absolute last resort." The change is needed because current law is too broad and shields police from accountability, she said.

A recent Newsday review found that a special prosecutor’s office created in 2015 to review the more than 20 cases in which civilians died at the hands of police has resulted in zero convictions of officers. Some legislators cited the legal standard for using force, which they said gave police wide latitude if they deemed force necessary and made it nearly impossible to gain indictments.

The attorney general said police should use force "as seldom as possible" and the law should carry "real consequences for when an officer crosses the line."

"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 New York, our laws have essentially given police blanket defense to use force in interactions with the public, making it exceedingly difficult for prosecutors to go after officers who have abused this power. Not only is that gravely unjust, but it has also proven to be incredibly dangerous."

A leading Republican said backers of the bill are going too far and contended New York has tougher standards than other states for police use of deadly force.

"I'd have to study the bill, but I wouldn't agree with them at first blush," said Assemb. Michael Montesano (R-Glen Head), a former police officer and ranking member of the Assembly Judiciary Committee. "I'm not supportive of something that would suppress police officers' ability to defend themselves."