Police chokeholds, like the one that killed Eric Garner on July 17th, are illegal. They were banned outright in 1993.
Nevertheless, they remain in use to this day, and as is indicated in a report released today by the city’s new Inspector General Philip Eure, the NYPD routinely chooses not to investigate officers suspected of using illegal chokeholds or to pursue disciplinary action. Even when such disciplinary actions have been expressly recommended by the Civilian Complaint Review Board, the city’s watchdog organization tasked with investigating police misconduct, the NYPD has repeatedly opted to do no such thing. Instead, the common response seems to be that offending officers just get a little talking to. Via the Associated Press:
The complaint review board investigates claims of officer misconduct and makes recommendations on whether to discipline an officer. Until recently, the NYPD could choose to try more serious allegations internally or ignore them. Under a 2012 agreement, the review board now tries some cases. The police commissioner has the final say on whether to discipline an officer.
The inspector general’s probe of 10 suspected chokehold cases in the past five years found that the review board substantiated all of the chokehold claims and recommended disciplining the officers. But the Police Department did not pursue discipline in most of the cases, according to the report. Instead, most of the officers were instructed on department policy.
While we can’t properly extrapolate based off only 10 cases, it appears from this report that the most common ramification for using an illegal chokehold is no more than a little chat about policy. Meanwhile, the choking continues, decade after decade.
Among the many New Yorkers calling for greater oversight for police conduct is City Council Member Rory Lancman, who is pushing a bill to classify the use of a chokehold during an arrest a misdemeanor and to start actually charging officers that violate. However, while Lancman’s bill has received sponsorship from the majority of his City Council colleagues, he has found opposition from the mayor’s office. From The Gotham Gazette:
In November, Mayor de Blasio explained his opposition to Lancman’s bill: “I think the best way to handle that is through NYPD policy, and what’s going to happen is the retraining of the entire police department, on a variety of approaches, including the fact that the chokehold is not an appropriate tool to use. But I’ve also said publicly, and I’ll say it again – there are some exceptional situations, and I want to respect our men and women in uniform who may be put into a life and death situation, literally one-on-one, them and a perpetrator who could literally mean to kill them, and they have to defend themselves – and that might involve a chokehold. And so I don’t think it should be made a matter of a legal prohibition, I think it should be handled by department policy.”
Lancman counters the mayor’s points by saying that not only is the NYPD not appropriately ridding its ranks of chokehold use, but that there is nothing about his bill that could or does override the legal fact that anyone – police officer or not – may use whatever force necessary to defend themselves in a life-or-death situation.
For a mayor who is depicted within certain circles as being a cop-killing weed smoking socialist that is eternally at odds with the police, he and the NYPD sure seem aligned when it comes to this “just chat it out in a back room” approach to chokeholds.
It is crucial that the mayor of a great city such as New York support law enforcement. Enforcing laws about proper police conduct is a good place for de Blasio to do just that.