NEW YORK (CBSNewYork/AP) — Police Commissioner Bill Bratton says NYPD officers will get annual training on the use of force following the police custody death of Eric Garner on Staten Island.
In a hearing before a City Council committee Monday, Bratton said a pilot program will begin in November with three precincts. It will eventually expand to include 20,000 officers who regularly work patrol.
“Our goal is ambitious because it has to be,” Bratton said. “Within a few years, our expectation is that other police departments will be coming to us for guidance in best practices and we’ll be the nation’s model for both recruit and in-service training.”
Since Mayor Bill de Blasio and Bratton took office this year, both have talked about new training and practices for the city’s 35,000 uniformed officers.
“It was evident to me and Mayor de Blasio at the time of my appointment as police commissioner that there was a need for a fundamental shift in the culture of the department,” Bratton said. “From an overarching focus on police activity, as measured in the number of stops, summonses and arrests, to an emphasis on problem-solving in the community.”
Prior to the hearing, a crowd gathered on the steps of City Hall to protest Garner’s death.
“We can’t seem to indict the policeman who killed Mr. Garner with his bare hands,” one woman said. “You want to know what I want? I want what you want — to walk into my community without a cop stopping me asking where I’m going.”
Garner, a 43-year-old asthmatic father of six, died on July 17 after being placed in an apparent chokehold by police. He had been stopped by police for allegedly selling loose, untaxed cigarettes.
In cellphone video of the incident, an officer is seen placing his arm around Garner’s neck and then taking him to the ground after Garner refuses to be handcuffed.
Garner is heard saying repeatedly, “I can’t breathe!” He died a short time later.
The New York City medical examiner’s office ruled Garner’s death a homicide, caused by the officer’s apparent chokehold as well as chest and neck compressions and prone positioning “during physical restraint by police.”
Last month, the Rev. Al Sharpton led several thousand people on a march on Staten Island demanding criminal charges against the officers involved.
PHOTOS: Eric Garner March
After Garner’s death, Bratton announced he had ordered “a top-to-bottom review” of all NYPD training and pledged to retrain all uniformed officers, especially in the use of force.
Bratton said Monday the training will include how to talk to the public, how to de-escalate tense situations and how to use force if necessary.
“The verbal and physical tactics needed to assess a situation are perishable skills,” he said. “We can’t reasonably expect an officer to maintain skills on the basis of training they receive as recruits without regular refreshers.”
He also said the new training will consist of a three-day course that will emphasize two core priorities.
“First, how to talk to an initially uncooperative person with the goal of avoiding a physical confrontation and, second, how to physically retrain a suspect who continues to resist arrest without harm to that individual or the officer,” Bratton said.
Bratton said officers currently only receive annual firearms training. He said the new training is aimed at changing the culture of the department.
“This cannot be just a quick response to recent circumstances of incidents,” he said. “This is an essential part of the training regiment going forward.”
The commissioner said officials are working on some long-term numbers, but in the short-term the retraining will cost about $25 million, CBS 2’s Andrea Grymes reported.
City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito said the City Council is looking into whether that cost can be supported.
Critics say the problem is not poor training, but poor judgment.
“Until this City Council addresses that issue and stops playing these games about training and retraining, which we’ve done for decades, we’re not getting to the root of the problem,” one protester said.
Bratton blamed a system he says was broken when he took office, saying the relationship between the community and cops was tainted with bad communication, CBS 2’s Weijia Jiang reported. He vowed to do better.
“We are committed to constitutional, respectful policing,” he said.
Bratton, however, said police can’t do it alone. He said some people instigate issues and resist arrest — things that can be avoided with mutual respect, Jiang reported.
Mark-Viverito welcomed the acknowledgement from Bratton that there has been an erosion in police-community relations, 1010 WINS’ Juliet Papa reported.
“I think that what we saw here today definitely is a step forward,” she said.
Mark-Viverito was troubled by the commissioner’s refusal to support legislation outlawing chokeholds, Papa reported. While they are banned by the NYPD, they are not illegal.
Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association President Patrick Lynch issued a statement saying, “City Hall has to make police staffing a priority.”
“Increased training helps us to do our job better and safer, but it pulls police officers from patrol, so in order to do more training, you’ll need more officers to cover patrol posts,” he said.
Bratton said he also wants to hire about 1,000 new officers, as well as people to teach conflict resolution courses. Lynch said that’s not enough hires.
During his testimony Monday, Bratton also blasted “recent media coverage” that he said has “made it seem like police use of force against arrestees is commonplace in this city.”
“That is simply not the case,” he said. “We’re making 98 out of 100 arrests without reportable use of force.”
The cop who was seen on video placing Garner in the apparent chokehold, Officer Daniel Pantaleo, and another unidentified officer were placed on modified reassignment pending the outcome of the case.
A grand jury is set to hear testimony in the case this month, with the possibility of criminal charges.
The City Council will oversee any changes made to methods and practices of the Police Department and could make their own recommendations.
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