Congressional Hopeful Says Policing Policy Best Left to ‘Local Departments’

Members of the 2014 class of the New York Police Department. (Getty)

Members of the 2014 class of the New York Police Department. (Getty)

Amid calls from some activists for national policing reform after an officer was arrested in the shooting death of Walter Scott, congressional candidate Councilman Vincent Gentile said today matters of policing were best left to local departments.

Mr. Scott, 50, who was black, was unarmed and running away when police officer Michael Slager shot him in the back, as seen on a widely publicized video taken by a bystander. Mr. Slager has been fired and charged with murder.

The death comes after a slew of other fatal encounters between unarmed black men and police—including the death of Eric Garner on Staten Island, who is seen telling officers he cannot breathe as they wrestled him to the ground for selling untaxed cigarettes. Mr. Gentile is running to represent all of Staten Island, and a portion of Brooklyn, in Congress.

“It looks horrible anyway you look at it. It’s a horrible situation,” he said of the video from South Carolina during an unrelated press conference. “But certainly I think the actions taken there were the correct actions. But I don’t know how you can equate the two, other than the fact that police were involved in both situations, and it was a person of color in both situations.”

But for many activists, the death of Scott is just the latest in a litany of encounters they’ve deemed police brutality—and often caught on tape, as it was with Garner, or the shooting of 12-year-old Tamir Rice. At the annual convention of his National Action Network yesterday, Rev. Al Sharpton called for national laws around policing.

“There must be national policy and national law on policing,” Mr. Sharpton said yesterday. “We can’t go from state to state, we’ve got to have national law to protect people against these continued questions.”

Mr. Gentile—running in a district where Mr. Sharpton is not exactly a popular figure—demurred when asked about Mr. Sharpton’s call for national laws about policing and body cameras, and whether he’d be open to considering such legislation in Congress.

“I’m not going to comment on anything that Rev. Al Sharpton has said,” Mr. Gentile told the Observer. “But certainly I think those are matters that local departments have to decide on. The fact that we are using body cameras now, Police Commissioner [Bill] Bratton has said that’s going to be part of the repertoire, I think that’s a good thing. I think as we move forward, that’s going to be more and more of a common thing, both on squad cars and in body cameras.”

Mr. Gentile’s opponent in the race is GOP Staten Island District Attorney Daniel Donovan, who was tasked with presenting the evidence in the Garner case to a grand jury that ultimately decided not to indict police officer Daniel Pantaleo, or anyone, in the man’s death.

Neither have discussed the case, or police reform, often on the campaign trail. Mr. Gentile said today he and others were waiting to hear the outcome of a federal Justice Department probe.

And while Mr. Gentile was stand-offish today about Mr. Sharpton, he took offense when Mr. Donovan’s campaign sent out an email titled “Al Sharpton is coming after Dan, we need your help!”

His spokesman, Justin Brannan, said at the time that Mr. Donovan should “be ashamed of himself.” He went on to call the email “race baiting at its worst.”

Congressional Hopeful Says Policing Policy Best Left to ‘Local Departments’