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Police licensing proposed in state legislature

Legislation introduced recently in the state Legislature would require local police officers to be licensed by the state.

The Police and Peace Officer Licensing Act (A.4517/S.6219) is sponsored by Sen. James Sanders Jr., D-South Ozone Park, and Assemblyman Daniel O ‘Donnell, D-New York City.

“The state of New York issues and monitors licenses for a wide variety of professions, ranging from educators to physicians to hairstylists and interior designers,” Sanders and O’Donnell wrote in their legislative justification. “If licensed professionals in these fields commit misconduct, their licenses can be suspended or revoked by a state board. However, no such licensing regime exists in New York for police and peace officers: in New York, almost all disciplinary power is left up to municipal police departments and agencies that directly employ police and peace officers, many of which have negotiated contracts that shield officers from discipline even when they commit serious misconduct.”

A Municipal Police Training Council would be tasked with establishing a mandatory licensing program and giving a five-year license to all currently serving police officers by Jan. 1, 2023. The council would also have to establish continuing education requirements for police officers for license renewals and new de-escalation and sensitivity training requirements for new officers after Jan. 1, 2023.

The law also creates a seven-member Independent Police and Peace Officer Licensing Board that would investigate misconduct allegations against licensed police officers and peace officers. Members of the board could revoke or suspend a police officer’s license if an officer is found to have committed acts of misconduct. The board would define professional misconduct.

Sanders and O’Donnell cite a 2020 investigation by ProPublica and The City that found a Civilian Complaint Review Board had found at least 40 instances of officers using illegal chokeholds, but none of the officers were fired and continued to serve.

“Officers would no longer be able to serve as police and peace officers for any agency or municipality in the State of New York if their licenses are suspended or revoked,” Sanders and O’Donnell wrote.

Another bill introduced earlier this week is S.6218, sponsored by Sen. Kevin Thomas, D-Garden City, which would make it a class D felony when a police officer falsely reports an incident and a class D felony when a police officer commits the crime of falsifying business records. Such incidents are currently misdemeanors.

“It is crucial that police reports honestly and accurately describe events,” Thomas wrote in his legislative justification. “Police reports are often key documents and evidence relied on by prosecutors, juries and judges. Police officers lie in police reports because the claims, if true, would give justification to a stop, arrest, or seizure. When a police officer lies, provides false police reports, omits facts from police reports or submits inaccurate information or evidence that is police misconduct and increases the likelihood that innocent people are wrongly prosecuted, convicted or jailed. As more police encounters are recorded, by witnesses or body cameras worn by the officers, false reporting is being exposed in cases where the officer’s statement might otherwise be accepted as truth.”

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