Many observers tout New York’s passage of the Police Brutality Act as the most far-reaching tool for force reform in the country. The legislation would lower the standard needed to prosecute police officers while requiring officers to use force only as a last resort.
The law includes many significant changes to when and how officers can legally use force against a suspected lawbreaker.
A new standard for using lethal force
An article by CNBC describes the former standard of lethal force as hinging on the officer’s reasonable belief that a situation required force. This made it extremely difficult to prosecute officers in many cases and lead to prosecutors not pursuing charges in some high-profile incidents. The new law changes the use of force from one of necessity to one of absolute last resort.
Under the new law, officers would need to use a variety of methods before using extreme force. These include such tactics as de-escalation, verbal warnings, lower levels of force and other measures. Prosecutors could also look at an officer’s actions to see if they led to the requirement for lethal force. The law puts in place penalties for officers who use force that grossly exceeds what appears necessary under the circumstances.
A balancing act
Supporters of the law hope it provides a better balance between the need of the police force to make quick decisions while under duress and the rights of all citizens. Critics of the law claim it would hamper the ability of officers to enforce the law and could lead to lower recruitment of new officers. The impact of the law on reducing police brutality will play out in the coming years.