New York State Attorney Letitia James introduced a proposal Friday that would reform criminal justice by updating and tightening the rules on when police officers are justified in using violent or even lethal force. Her proposal includes criminal punishments for officers found to have used unjustified or excessive force.
The attorney general introduced her Police Accountability Act during a noon-hour news conference.
“Our goal today is to preserve lives, by making sure that under the law lethal force is the last resort," James said. "And while there is legitimate reason why police officers have some special protections, those protections should not preclude them from being held accountable when they needlessly take the life of another, or unnecessarily use excessive amounts of force.”
While acknowledging a need for officers to be protected on the job, the attorney general says current state law regarding use of force gives too much room for offices to use it when unnecessary, and not be held accountable.
“At its core, the system was built to protect and shield officers. In fact, in New York, it is exceedingly difficult to prosecute police officers who kill civilians because of an expansive justification law that gives officers extraordinary wide latitude to use force, diminishing prosecutors’ ability to hold police accountable, even when officers may be at fault,” James said.
Among those joining the attorney general to introduce the bill was Gwen Carr, the mother of Eric Garner. He died in 2014 shortly after a New York police officer placed a chokehold on him during an arrest.
"My son should have been alive today, if the police officer would have followed protocol, or if there was any accountability," she said. "All those officers who was on my son's neck or my son's back. And the police officer who looked the other way, they all should have been fired and criminal charges should have been brought forward. And there could be no justice without accountability. This is what we need, accountability."