NEW YORK - NY1 has learned the City Council is exploring amending its new chokehold law after concerns were raised by the NYPD. But it's not yet clear if the council has the votes to make the change.
The law, signed by the mayor last month, officially bans the use of chokeholds by police officers and makes it a misdemeanor. But police officials raised concerns about one aspect of the law -- the prohibition of sitting, kneeling, or standing on someone’s chest or back that compresses the diaphragm.
The NYPD’s chief of department had called that part of the bill “dangerous,” because an officer could unintentionally compress someone’s diaphragm in the process of making an arrest.
The Council’s amendments are meant to address that concern. The new language, given exclusively to NY1, would add the word “recklessly” to that provision of the law. It would also only make the move illegal if it "causes injury due to asphyxiation.”
During his briefing Wednesday morning, Mayor Bill de Blasio knew the changes were coming.
“The chairman of the Pubic Safety Committee in the council, Donovan Richards, is taking the lead on this,” the mayor said. “And clearly the crucial reform in the original legislation continues. Chokeholds will be illegal no matter what. As I understand, the focus here is just on some clarification on the issue of diaphragms."
Richards said the revisions are minor, but are meant to get the NYPD to start making more arrests. He has tied the proposed change to the idea that the NYPD is in the midst of a slowdown.
“I think part of the bill, the diaphragm portion of the bill, was left a little vague, which left the NYPD the excuse to say that they can’t make arrests,” Richards told NY1. "The point of clarifying that was to ensure that the police department could no longer use this excuse, and they can get back on our streets actually doing the work to prevent violence in our communities.”
We asked Richards whether he had enough votes to assure the bill’s passage, and he could not say.
In fact, some sources question whether the legislation will be able to make it to the floor.
The original chokehold bill’s sponsor is certainly not supporting it.
“It will eviscerate not just the law itself, but the rule of law and the legitimacy of the City Council as an institution capable of overseeing the NYPD," Queens Councilman Rory Lancman said in a statement.
Council Speaker Corey Johnson was also asked about it on Wednesday. He said no action will be taken until the council hears from the public.
"I think this is an important conversation that has to be had with the members of color in the council and with advocates,” Johnson said. "Legislation in the council has a process. Nothing will be changed without a discussion and public hearing.”
While the changes are being made to appease police officers, the Police Benevolent Association was not taking a victory lap.
”Nothing short of a full repeal can repair the damage from this insane law," PBA president Patrick Lynch said in a statement. "That won’t happen, because the Mayor and City Council have no intention of actually fixing this problem. They are content to blame cops for the mess they created. If they wanted us to be able to do our job safely and effectively, they would never have passed it in the first place.”
The City Council is expected to hold a hearing on the legislation next week.