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New York State Attorney General Letitia James Calls For Changes to Law Justifying Police Use Of Force

NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) -- The New York state Attorney General wants sweeping new legislation to try to hold police more accountable.

It would change laws governing excessive use of force.

As CBS2's Dick Brennan reports., the legislation seeks to change New York's law that justifies police use of force.

Attorney General Letitia James says the standard is too high for prosecutors seeking justice against officers who have gone too far, but police say the law will put officers' lives at risk.

"Our goal today is to preserve lives by making sure that under the law lethal force is a last resort," James said.

James says in light of the George Floyd killing and other instances of police brutality, she wants to change the law governing use of force by police "from one of simple necessity to one of absolute last resort, mandating that police officers only use force after all other alternatives have been exhausted."

"It will mandate that an officer only use deadly force when they truly believe it is necessary and that a reasonable person in the same position would also hold that belief," James said.

The law would require officers to first try to de-escalate a situation, but James says this would not apply to officers who are making split-second decisions.

"When their life or the life of another individual is being threatened, it will not change those situations. There are reasonable protections that officers need in situations like those," James said.

Police Benevolent Association President Pat Lynch issued a statement saying, "This sweeping proposal would make it impossible for police officers to determine whether or not we are permitted to use force in a given situation. The bottom line: more cops and more regular New Yorkers are going to get hurt."

The NYPD issued the following statement in response to the legislation:

"The NYPD's use of force has been lower than most major cities and has steadily declined. Our focus on firearms discipline has resulted in steadily declining use of firearms, even by officers who are fired upon. A 2019 study showed that the NYPD used force on in only 2.4 percent of all arrests. We believe our policies and training, which are always evolving, set a high standard and are validated by the steady declines in use of force and complaints against officers. We will study the legislation but urge mindfulness on the part of law makers regarding the safety of police officers who go in harm's way for the public we serve every day."

"I just think that it's a free-for-all now, as it relates to everyone getting involved in the changes in law enforcement, whether they're experts in law enforcement or not," said Dr. Robert Gonzalez, a professor at St. John's University and former NYPD training officer.

He says if the legislation is passed, police will face a new standard.

"The officers are going to be scrutinized on what level of force they use and how do they get to the point that they actually discharge their firearm," Gonzalez said.

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