NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) — As Mayor Bill de Blasio tries to heal the rift with police, he may find himself up against the City Council.
As CBS2’s Sonia Rincon reported, a bill that would criminalize police chokeholds has been gaining momentum, even though the mayor said this week that he would veto it.
Whether or not a police chokehold caused Eric Garner’s death on Staten Island last year depends on whom you ask. The matter as of Thursday remained under internal review by the NYPD.
The NYPD does ban the use of chokeholds, but they are not illegal.
The NYPD and an independent agency tasked with investigating excessive force claims are inconsistent in determining how and when officers are held accountable for using prohibited chokeholds, according to a report released this past Monday by the city’s new inspector general for police.
City Councilman Rory Lancman (D-24th) of eastern Queens believes Garner was killed by a chokehold. He has proposed a bill that would take the exact language of the NYPD’s ban on the maneuver and make it the law — with penalties.
“What our bill would do would be… make the performance of a chokehold in the course of effecting an arrest a misdemeanor, punishable by up to a year in prison,” Lancman said. “It is our hope not to put cops behind bars or run them through the criminal justice system, but to deter the use of chokeholds.”
But Mayor de Blasio does not think such a move is necessary. A spokesman said Tuesday that the mayor believes the NYPD internal policy is the best way to regulate the practice.
“As written, yes, I would veto that bill,” de Blasio said.
And NYPD Commissioner Bill Bratton said he is grateful for that. He said criminalizing a chokehold goes too far.
“It’s totally inappropriate, totally unnecessary, misguided, and uninformed,” Bratton said.
Police union leaders have also opposed the bill.
And the mayor said a police officer whose life may be in danger in a struggle with a perpetrator needs to be able to use all available tools to save his own life.
“I’m not going to create a situation where an officer is in that life-and-death struggle, and, thank God, survives – and then faces criminal charges,” de Blasio said. “That’s unacceptable.”
Lancman insisted the bill would not take any tools away from police.
“Anyone in a life-or-death situation who’s accused of a crime, whether it’s because they used a chokehold or fired a gun, can always claim self-defense and be exonerated,” he said.
The bill has plenty of support in the Council. Already, 29 sponsors have signed on.
With 51 members in all in the Council, the number of sponsors alone is enough to pass the bill. But it will need 34 votes to override the mayor’s promised veto.
The question now is whether the Council will have the chance to discuss the bill. CBS2 asked Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito.
“If there is support of colleagues, there is most likely going to be a hearing,” Mark-Viverito said. “That does not mean that legislation passes.”
As for whether she herself thinks the bill should pass, Mark-Viverito said, “I haven’t really taken a position on it yet.”
And while Commissioner Bratton called on the Council to offering the NYPD more support and not more regulation, the speaker on Thursday announced $7 million in proposed new funding for bulletproof vests for police officers.
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