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New York City Council passes sweeping police reform bills

A sweeping package of police reforms was approved by the New York City Council Thursday, some of which have been in the works since the death of Eric Garner...

Posted: Jun 19, 2020 3:26 AM

A sweeping package of police reforms was approved by the New York City Council Thursday, some of which have been in the works since the death of Eric Garner in 2014.

The council passed six bills that include requiring officer badge numbers to be visible, an official ban on chokeholds or any other maneuver that restricts blood or air flow and a bill requiring oversight of the New York City Police Department's surveillance technology.

The reform package creates a penalty system for police officers with disciplinary issues, a system to intervene with training for officers who are deemed "problematic," and a bill that puts into law the right to record police interactions.

Council members began working on the chokehold ban in 2014 shortly after Garner's death. Garner was videotaped being restrained by an NYPD officer while saying that he couldn't breathe.

In a press conference before the vote, City Council Speaker Corey Johnson apologized for the bills not having moved more quickly.

"I think the conversation around policing and re-envisioning what public safety looks like, that conversation should have started a long time ago," Johnson said at the press conference conducted via Zoom. "It should have started after all of these deaths that we've seen and sadly it didn't. But this reckoning that we're seeing now is now creating the moment for us to actually have that conversation again."

Johnson became City Council speaker in 2018, but in 2015, he voted in support of a city budget that would expand the NYPD by 1,300 officers, a move that he and other council members have come under fire for recently.

"I want to apologize for that," Johnson said. "And not make up excuses and not sit here today and give you a list of reasons why. This moment is a reckoning. It's a reckoning for America, it's a reckoning for our city."

The reforms come after the nationwide protests spurred by the death of George Floyd, who died after a Minneapolis police officer restrained Floyd by pressing a knee on his neck for nearly nine minutes.

New York City Councilman Donovan Richards said he believes it was partly that Americans across the country were home to watch the wall-to-wall coverage of Floyd's death, including the graphic video of his final moments.

"They got to see what we live through on a daily basis," Donovan said. "People around the world are marching for George Floyd and protesting. This is a unique moment in history. We can't rest on our laurels. There's a lot more work to be done."

Earlier this week, New York state lawmakers passed a state bill that would make chokeholds used by police that resulted in serious injury or death illegal. New York City Councilman Rory Lancman said the city's bill prohibits an officer from sitting, kneeling or standing on a suspect's chest or back in a way that restricts airflow or blood flow.

Garner's mother, Gwen Carr, told CNN Thursday that she has been frustrated it took nearly six years for the chokehold ban to pass.

"At one point they told me it probably wouldn't pass. I'm so glad I don't take no for an answer," Carr said. "I'm glad that they saw fit to pass this. Just to have it passed and to have it on the books is a step in the right direction. I just hope to get other laws passed that can stop the killing and the murder of the black and brown communities."

Lancman said Thursday that part of the delay in getting the chokehold ban passed was Mayor Bill de Blasio's threat to veto it.

On Thursday, de Blasio said at a press conference that he will sign the chokehold legislation.

"We have to give people confidence that policing will be fair and I'm convinced this legislation will do it and I will be signing it," de Blasio said.

All six measures passed with veto-proof majorities.

Another bill the council passed the Public Oversight of Surveillance Technology Act, which would require police to disclose how they use surveillance technology and what safeguards it has in place to protect civil liberties.

A spokeswoman for the NYPD said the department could not support a law that "seems to be designed to help criminals and terrorists thwart efforts to stop them and endanger brave officers."

"To be clear, the bill as currently proposed would literally require the NYPD to advertise on its website the covert means and equipment used by undercover officers who risk their lives every day," Detective Sophia Mason said in a statement to CNN.

The Legal Aid Society of New York released a statement praising the passage of the surveillance bill.

"Today's passing of the POST Act signals a critical shift in transparency and a significant step in the larger fight for police accountability to protect communities of color, the LGBTQ+ community, and all overly policed communities," said Jerome Greco, a Legal Aid Society attorney.

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