De Blasio hits the pause button on NYC police reform

In New York (both the city and the state), there has been a flurry of legislative activity lately aiming to enact “police reform” in response to the riots engulfing the streets. These efforts have been taking place in tandem with executive orders issued by both the Governor and Mayor Bill de Blasio. But the recent raft of so-called reform bills to pass the City Council in Gotham has suddenly been put on hold. Hizzoner was expected to sign the bills yesterday as soon as they reached his desk, but at least for the moment, he’s keeping his pen in its holster. After all of his tough talk about bringing the NYPD under control, is the Mayor suddenly having second thoughts? (NY Daily News)

Originally planned for signature on Tuesday, NYC Mayor de Blasio is reviewing a package of police reform bills including a chokehold ban, following angry backlash from NYPD brass who said the legislation would weaken cops amid a major spike in crime.

At the end of a Tuesday public comment session on the police reform measures and three unrelated bills, de Blasio signed the latter but said he would approve the former “at a later date.”

While the mayor often signs legislation immediately after public comment sessions — and he said Tuesday that the police reforms mark “a watershed moment for our city” — he sometimes waits a few days to seal the deal.

De Blasio’s explanation doesn’t make any sense, leading me to wonder what his actual motivation here might be. The public comment period is over and the bills are ready to sign. By saying he’s going to sign them “at a later date” he’s not leaving open the option that he might refuse to sign them or call for modifications. So what’s the holdup? Is he just trying to insert a dramatic pause for theatrical purposes and to generate more clicks in the press? If so, that’s a pretty feckless approach to one’s executive duties.

As I said, there’s probably more to this story than meets the eye. De Blasio has been getting an earful from his own cops about these bills, including the one putting a complete ban on chokeholds and delivering serious prison time for cops who use them. His own Police Commissioner, Dermot Shea, called the legislation insane, adding “Police officers should not have to worry more about getting arrested than the person with the gun that they’re rolling around on the street with.”

The bill goes much further than only banning chokeholds, by the way. It also forbids “sitting, kneeling or standing” on the chest or back of a suspect or doing anything else that might “compress the diaphragm.” But as the NYPD has already pointed out, there are some instances, particularly with a potentially armed suspect who is violently resisting arrest, that such a maneuver may wind up being the last resort available before simply taking out their service firearm and killing the person. Would police reform advocates prefer to see that?

To be fair to both sides here, some of the other police reform bills currently on the Mayor’s desk look perfectly acceptable, and in some cases probably overdue. For example, there’s one bill that would codify the right of citizens to film the activities of the police out in public while doing their jobs. Nothing wrong with that. The police officers’ salaries are paid for by the public and they are working in the public interest. Their activities shouldn’t be secretive unless they are undercover. Others that require officers to display their shield numbers when in uniform and on the beat, along with one that establishes a tracking system for proven cases of excessive use of force seem equally valid and would further increase transparency. Those sorts of measures could go a fair way toward increasing public confidence in the force.

But the chokehold ban is clearly a bridge too far. All that’s going to do is result in less police intervention in crimes. Why would the cops want to engage an armed, violent felon when their only options might be to allow the suspect to attack them or wind up going to prison themselves? Of course, if less police intervention is what you’re secretly hoping for, then perhaps the legislation makes complete sense.

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