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Democrats propose police reform bills

State legislators will reconvene next week to discuss criminal justice reform measures.

Text of that legislation, though, does not yet exist. Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins, D-Buffalo, and Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie, D-Bronx, said in a news release earlier this week that the chambers will return to session after Democratic caucuses held meetings.

“Today the Senate and Assembly had productive majority conferences to discuss the issues occurring in our communities that have caused so much unrest over the last several days,” Stewart-Cousins and Heastie said in a joint statement. “Members have bills on many topics related to these issues and we will be developing a legislative package based on the ideas put forward. We intend to act on them next week.”

According to the Albany Times-Union, one of those bills is likely to be a repeal of what is known as the “50-a” statute, a section of the state Civil Rights Law passed in 1976 that has been interpreted as shielding police personnel records from public view. The governor has said he will sign the bill reforming Section 50-a once it is passed, but the Times-Union also said in a story Monday that Cuomo told reporters the law has been incorrectly applied over the years.

“I gave them a legal opinion that says the law doesn’t apply,” Cuomo said, according to the Times-Union. “Now, if a mayor wanted to release the records, you know what they would do? Release the records and say, ‘I have a governor’s counsel opinion that says the law doesn’t say I can’t release them.'”

What else may be in the legislative package to be discussed next week? Here are some of the bills that have been introduced throughout the session that could be pushed through.

NEW LEGISLATION

¯ A.10560/S.7527, sponsored by Assemblywoman Diana C. Richardson, D-Brooklyn, and Sen. Zellnor Myrie, D.Brooklyn. The legislation, introduced Tuesday, would repeal Chapter 834 of the Laws of 1940 to treat police disciplinary differently than those of other municipal employees whose discipline is spelled out in the state Civil Service Law. Under current law, removal hearings for police officers can only be designated to a “deputy of other employee” of the police agency head, which courts have interpreted to mean police disciplinary proceedings must take place within police department structures.

“Public trust and confidence in law enforcement requires independent, effective, and accessible mechanisms for holding police officers accountable for misconduct,” Richardson wrote in her legislative justification. “When police disciplinary proceedings are governed by and held entirely within a police department’s trial room, public trust is undermined. Access to information is more restricted, as unlike the hearing transcripts and recommended decisions produced by agencies like OATH, documents generated from police department trial room proceedings are confidential under state law.”

¯ A.10574, introduced by Assemblyman Nick Perry, D-Brooklyn. Companion legislation has not yet been introduced in the state Senate. Titled the Police Brutality Prevention Act, Perry’s legislation would amend the state Penal Law to create the crime of second-degree undue use of force by an officer, a class C felony, when a police or peace officer intentionally uses a maneuver to subdue a person which limits the ability of the person to breathe including, but not limited to, restraining a person around the neck, using a choke hold, putting his or her knee on the person’s neck, or acting in any other manner which interferes with or results in the blocking or compromising of the person’s airway. It would also create the crime of first-degree undue use of force by an officer, a class B felony, and expand the charge of second-degree murder to include a police or peace officer who while in the course of committing undue use of force by an officer in the first or second degree causes the death of a person.

“When trying to subdue an individual, police officers should not be using tactics which can lead to someone dying from asphyxiation,” Perry wrote in his legislative justification. “In the case of Eric Garner’s death, the officer who caused it suffered no criminal consequences for employing a procedure that had long been banned. This legislation will ensure that an officer who utilizes a dangerous procedure that limits the ability of the person to breathe will face criminal consequences.”

¯ A.10575/S.3196, introduced by Assemblyman Perry in the Assembly on Tuesday and Sen. Kevin S. Parker, D-Brooklyn, in January, would direct the state Attorney General to review incidents where a civilian is killed or severely injured by a police officer. The bill would change the state Executive Law to give the Attorney General 60 days to review the incident and decide if the incident remains in the jurisdiction of a local district attorney or under a special prosecutor appointed by the governor.

The idea was part of Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s seven-point Justice Agenda State of the State address in 2015, but has never made it through the state Legislature.

PREVIOUSLY

INTRODUCED BILLS

¯ A.9656/S.6664, introduced by Assemblyman Jeffrion Aubry, D-Corona, in January and by Sen. Parker in January to amend the state Penal Law to place limits on the use of force by police or peace officers. The legislation stipulates that officers should use other resources and techniques rather than force if the other avenues are safe and feasible to an “objectionably reasonable officer” and places into law a section stipulating that those with physical, mental health, developmental or intellectual disabilities are more likely to experience greater levels of physical force during police interactions.

Deadly force would be allowed when officers are defending against an imminent threat of death or serious bodily injury to themselves or another person; if they are trying to apprehend a fleeing person for any felony that threatened or resulted in death or serious bodily injury and only then if the officer reasonably believes the person will kill or injure another person unless they are immediately caught.

The bill states officers should not use deadly force against a person based on the danger the person poses to themselves.

The bill does state that officers trying to make an arrest do not need to retreat or desist from their efforts if the person being arrested resists or threatens resistance, and officers should not be deemed an aggressor or lose the right to self-defense as long as they comply with other stipulations in the law.

¯ A.5192/S.8141, sponsored by Assemblyman Phil Ramos, D-Brentwood, in 2019 and again in January and Sen. Parker during the 2015-16, 2017-18 and the current legislative session. The bill would require the State Police superintendent to establish uniform investigation standards when there is a shooting of a civilian by a police officer.

“Currently there are no uniform standards or guidelines in place to follow in cases where a civilian is shot by a police officer,” Parker and Ramos wrote in their legislative justification. “This new bill calls on the superintendent of the state police to implement minimum investigatory standards when there is a shooting of a civilian by a police officer. It also mandates that such standards must be followed every time there is a shooting of a civilian by a police officer.”

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