New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo on Friday signed the “most aggressive” police reform legislative package in the nation in a move that makes officers more accountable and criminalizes chokeholds and other controversial restraints.
The package of bills — vehemently opposed by a coalition of law enforcement union — follows weeks of protests nationwide. Legislative efforts targeting police violence have taken hold nationally after the deaths of several African Americans at the hands of the police, including George Floyd, who died in Minneapolis last month after a white police officer knelt on his neck for more than eight minutes.
“The truth is this police reform is long overdue and Mr. Floyd’s murder is just the most recent murder,” Cuomo said Friday before signing the bills. “It’s not just about Mr. Floyd’s murder. It’s about being here before, many, many times before.”
Cuomo and state lawmakers agreed to advance a package of significant policing policy changes that had stalled for years because of opposition from law enforcement circles. The state Senate and Assembly on Wednesday passed 10 policing bills.
“Make no mistake we know that what we did is not a cure. We know it’s a first step,” Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins said from the senate floor Wednesday, adding that laws alone “can’t fix racism in America.
“A coalition of law enforcement unions and associations consider the legislation “anti-police.”
One measure outlaws the use of police chokeholds. It is named after Eric Garner, an African American man who died as a result of a police chokehold during a 2014 arrest.
Chokeholds were already prohibited by the NYPD at the time of Garner’s death but the new law makes the use of “a chokehold or similar restraint” a class C felony punishable by up to 15 years in prison.
Cuomo was joined Friday by the activist Rev. Al Sharpton, who recently spoke in support of the legislation with along with Garner’s mother.
The govenor also signed a controversial law allowing disciplinary records for police officers, firefighters or corrections officers to be released without their written consent. The law repeals a 1976 statute known as Section 50-a of the New York State Civil Rights Law, which was enacted to exempt police officers from being cross-examined during criminal prosecutions, according to the bill.
New York Police Department officials have acknowledged the need for more transparency.
Powerful police unions, including the Police Benevolent Association, said the legislation reflected will result in unfair policies.
The coalition said in a statement that it worried all police complaints — including those not fully investigated or substantiated — will be released. It says a judge already has discretion on releasing such records and there are concerns officers would not have a chance to be heard.
Anither law signed by Cuomo addressed police use-of-force. All state police officers must now wear body cameras. Another law requires officers, within six hours, to report any time they discharge their weapon in which a person could have been hit.
Legislators also took aim at incidents like the recent viral video of Amy Cooper calling 911 on a black man at Central Park. The new law makes false race-based 911 reports a crime.
Democrats in Congress this week announced sweeping policing legislation, which faces resistance from Republicans, police unions and some local officials.