Attorney General James announces 'Police Accountability Act,' aims to reform use of force law

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Posted at 1:04 PM, May 21, 2021

ALBANY, N.Y. (WKBW) — New York Attorney General Letitia James announced the "Police Accountability Act" which aims to reform police use of force law.

According to the AG's office, the Police Accountability Act is the most far-reaching use of force reform in the nation. The AG says New York's law that justifies police use of force "currently sets an exceedingly high standard for prosecuting police officers who have improperly used deadly or excessive force."

AG James made the announcement during a press conference with other elected officials in New York Friday.

A release from the AG's office says the proposed legislation seeks to amend the use of force law from a simple necessity to a last resort. It would mandate officers only use force after all other alternatives have been exhausted. The proposed legislation would also establish new criminal penalties for officers who use force in excess of what is warranted.

For far too long, police officers in this country have been able to evade accountability for the unjustified use of excessive and lethal force,” said Attorney General James. “In New York, our laws have essentially given police blanket defense to use force in interactions with the public, making it exceedingly difficult for prosecutors to go after officers who have abused this power. Not only is that gravely unjust, but it has also proven to be incredibly dangerous. The Police Accountability Act will make critical and necessary changes to the law, providing clear and legitimate standards for when the use of force is acceptable and enacting real consequences for when an officer crosses that line. While this is an important step in addressing the shortfalls of our criminal justice system, it is not a cure all for the ills that have impacted too many families and claimed too many lives. We must continue to do everything in our power to protect our communities and ensure that no one is beyond the reach of justice.
Attorney General James

You can find an overview of the Police Accountability Act from the AG's office below.

The Police Accountability Act (S.6615 [lnks.gd]) includes a series of reforms aimed at improving protocols and strengthening accountability measures when police officers use force, especially lethal force. These legislative reforms are intended to reduce deaths at the hands of police by ensuring that police officers adhere to practices and tactics that aim to preserve life and only use lethal force as a last resort, while providing prosecutors with appropriate tools to potentially hold officers accountable when an individual dies after an interaction with police.

1) Use of Force Must Be A Last Resort

Current law: New York’s current law does not require officers to exhaust other options, such as de-escalation, verbal warnings, or lower level uses of force, before using force, including lethal force.

Police Accountability Act reform: The Police Accountability Act seeks to amend this law by establishing a “last resort” standard, whereby use of force must be a last resort that officers can only employ when there are no reasonable alternatives to avoiding force or reducing the force used. Officers must instead exhaust alternatives, including de-escalation, lower levels of force, verbal warnings, and other methods.

2) Simple Suspicion of Criminal Conduct Cannot Justify Lethal Force

Current law: New York’s current use of force law authorizes police to use lethal force based simply on an officer’s reasonable belief that an individual committed a particular crime — a certain category of felony or attempt to commit a felony — and irrespective of whether the individual presents a danger to the officer or another person at the time.

Police Accountability Act reform: The Police Accountability Act seeks to eliminate justification for lethal force when an officer simply suspects an individual has engaged in particular criminal conduct. Lethal force should only be used in the most exigent of circumstances and demands higher standards of proof before an officer may use lethal force.

3) Allow Prosecutors to Evaluate if Police Conduct Led to Need for Use of Force

Current law: New York’s current law justifying police use of force does not provide a mechanism for prosecutors to consider an officer’s own responsibility for creating the need for force in the first place.

Police Accountability Act reform: The Police Accountability Act seeks to explicitly allow prosecutors to consider whether an officer’s conduct created a substantial and unjustifiable risk that force would become necessary. Where that is the case, an officer may not avail themselves of the justification defense.

4) Establish Standards and Criminal Penalties to Prevent Excessive Use of Police Force

The Police Accountability Act — sponsored by State Senator Kevin Parker in the Senate and to be sponsored by Assemblymember N. Nick Perry in the Assembly — seeks to establish criminal penalties for police officers who employ force that is grossly in excess of what is warranted under the circumstances and where that force causes physical injury or death. The level of charge would depend on the severity of the injuries caused.