Bratton on Making Chokeholds Illegal: ‘Good Luck But I Won’t Support It’

People attend a rally against police violence on August 23 in Staten Island (Photo by Yana Paskova/Getty Images).
People attend a rally against police violence on August 23 in Staten Island after the death of Eric Garner, who the medical examiner determined was killed by a police chokehold. (Photo by Yana Paskova/Getty Images).

Chokeholds may be prohibited by the NYPD rule book, but they aren’t actually illegal — and Councilman Rory Lancman is looking to change that.

But he won’t find support from Police Commissioner Bill Bratton, who said today he doesn’t believe it’s necessary to criminalize the highly controversial procedure that a medical examiner ruled caused the death of Eric Garner, 43, in police custody.

“Would you support legislation that would make it illegal for an officer or anyone to perform this incredibly dangerous maneuver?” Mr. Lancman asked Mr. Bratton during a Council hearing today.

“I would not,” Mr. Bratton answered shortly.

“Why not?” Mr. Lancman asked.

“I feel that department policies are sufficient. But if lawmakers want to try to make that against the law, good luck, but I won’t support it,” Mr. Bratton said.

The exchange came after Mr. Bratton previously objected to Councilman Corey Johnson calling chokeholds illegal in a question about why so few officers had been punished for allegations of using the maneuver — banned by NYPD rules since 1993.

“Chokeholds are not illegal. They are not against the law,” Mr. Bratton noted.

Mr. Lancman tweeted about Mr. Bratton’s remark, adding the hashtag: “#ivegotabillforthat.”

He went on to press Mr. Bratton over his belief that department policy and the oversight of the Civilian Complaint Review Board was enough.

“So let’s get to that view that the department’s policy is sufficient, given how many chokeholds we have been able to see performed with our own eyes –” Mr. Lancman began.

“What you seem to see,” Mr. Bratton interjected. “That’s what the CCRB exists for, to make a determination. And in the case of a death, that’s what our legal system exists for, to determine was there was in fact any criminality involved in the use of that particular type of force by our officer.”

Mr. Lancman pointed out that Mr. Bratton himself had said he believed the move used by the officer in Mr. Garner’s death, as he was being arrested for selling loose untaxed cigarettes, was a chokehold.

“I’m not going to speak to the Garner case at all. It’s in the appropriate forum at the moment and that’s the district attorney over in Staten Island,” Mr. Bratton said today.

After the hearing, Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito said she wanted more information on Mr. Bratton’s stance on chokeholds.

“There’s some follow-up necessary if, as a policy, the NYPD is saying that they are not, that officers cannot use and implement chokeholds, why then he would be opposed to us legislating that, I don’t understand,” she said, “And I would like to get more information.”

The exchanges about chokeholds were among just a handful of tense moments during the hearing — Councilman Jumaane Williams took issue with Mr. Bratton’s views on resisting arrest; Councilman Robert Cornegy took issue with Mr. Bratton’s views on subway dancers. For much of the hearing, council members asked for details about the new use-of-force training. Some offered up praise of the department leadership for being more accessible and accountable than in previous administrations, where hearings with Commissioner Ray Kelly were rare and contentious.

“I think it was, at least for my part, well-received that there was an acknowledgment that there has been an erosion between police-community relations,” Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito said after the hearing. “And that is one of the reasons that has led to this level of engagement on the part of the commissioner to really revamp the way training is being  done, particularly that relationship between communities of color and the police department. That recognition is something that we had not seen in the prior administration. It is the foundation in the step of moving forward.” Bratton on Making Chokeholds Illegal: ‘Good Luck But I Won’t Support It’