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Updated: May 21, 2021, 2:19 PM

NY AG proposes use-of-force reform, new charges for police prosecution

By Craig McCarthy

The New York attorney general on Friday proposed new criminal charges for cops who use “force that is grossly in excess of what is warranted” as part of a new potential reform of the state’s use-of-force guidelines.

“We are in the midst of a racial reckoning in this country,” AG Letitia James said. “Last month, we saw a police officer convicted for the murder of George Floyd. The [Derek] Chauvin verdict is exactly the exception that proves the rule accountability in these cases is rare.”

“At its core, the system [is] built to protect and shield officers … and today we are taking an important step to change that reality,” she added.

The AG’s legislation would change the use-of-force guidelines to make lethal force the last resort after exhausting all other alternatives.

It would also eliminate the clause that allows cops to use deadly force if they believe the person has committed or attempted a certain type of felony.

James said the change “will not affect and or change those split-second decisions that police officers have to make on the streets… all this does is again codify in law what is already in the [NYPD] patrol guide for the City of New York.”

But the leader of New York City’s largest police union said that’s not the case. 

“The only reasonable solution will be to avoid confrontations where force might become necessary,” PBA President Pat Lynch said. “Meanwhile, violent criminals certainly aren’t hesitating to use force against police officers or our communities.”

James said the change “will not affect and or change those split second decisions that police officers have to make on the streets … all this does is again codify in law what is already in the [NYPD] patrol guide for the City of New York.”

The proposed law, dubbed the Police Accountability Act, gives prosecutors the power to review whether an officer’s conduct was responsible for escalating a situation with “substantial and unjustifiable risk” making the force used necessary.

In addition, a new criminal penalty would be created to charge cops who “employ force that is grossly in excess of what is warranted under the circumstances and where that force causes physical injury or death.” The level of those charges would be based on the severity of injuries.

James made the announcement while flanked by the mother of Eric Garner, Gwen Carr, state lawmakers and an attorney for the parents of Sean Bell.

Carr — whose son’s final words, “I can’t breathe,” became a rallying cry for the Black Lives Matter protests — praised the legislation as “the first major step in our nation to bring about change.”

“The goal of this reform is to reduce the deaths, and I say to eliminate the deaths of unarmed and people of color,” she said. “We know that there is more work that we have to do is not going to change the minds and the hearts of those bad actors … but I just urge everyone who is going to vote on this … please, please give the prosecutors another tool to work with.”

The bill sponsor, state Sen. Kevin Parker (D-Brooklyn), said this legislation “corrects” and “defines” the law.

“This creates a reasonable expectation for law enforcement as well as the people of our great state,” Parker said.

The head of the NYPD’s Captains Endowment Association slammed the measure as “more anti-police legislation making it more difficult to do our jobs.”

“The elected officials took all the tools out of our toolbox, the disbandment of anti-crime, the decriminalization of marijuana, stop and frisk, and the department is expecting status quo when these laws are being passed and proposed where it will be easier to arrest a cop for doing his or her job,” President Chris Monahan said.