NY Attorney General applauds Syracuse Police Dept. for …
SYRACUSE, N.Y. — The New York State Attorney General gave the Syracuse Police Department a pat on the back last week for updating and modernizing an outdated policy on use of force.
SPD released its revamped use of force policy last June. It was one of Chief Kenton Buckner’s top priorities when he took over the department at the end of 2018.
Just four days after the release of that new policy, an officer shot and killed a 74-year-old man who had pointed a handheld BB gun at the officer. Per state law, that incident was referred to Attorney General Letitia James for review.
Friday, James’ office issued a 33-page report justifying the officer’s actions. In a footnote buried in that report was praise for Buckner’s new use of force policy and a scathing critique of the prior policy.
“The new policy, issued approximately one week before this incident, replaced a policy that provided no meaningful guidance or expectations aimed at saving lives,” the AG report said. “For instance, unlike the previous policy, SPD’s new Use of Force policy provides that officers have a duty to intercede when they observe other officers using unreasonable force as well as a duty to provide swift medical assistance to injured subjects; the new policy also explicitly provides that officers should attempt to de-escalate situations whenever possible. While the majority of the new policy changes are not relevant to the circumstances of this case, we take this opportunity to favorably recognize the updated and greatly improved SPD Use of Force policy.”
The comment was an unusual and unnecessary move seemingly intended as kudos to the department for overhauling its use of force policy.
Until last year, the department’s use of force policy hadn’t been revisited in decades. It offered just two sentences describing when officers should use force. Nowhere did it say when force was prohibited.
The new policy is seven pages long and includes modern language describing when an officer can and cannot use force. Among the highlights:
Officers cannot use a choke-hold unless there is an immediate threat of serious harm or death;
Force cannot be used against someone who is handcuffed or otherwise restrained, unless it’s necessary to prevent injury;
Force should never be used to torture or punish someone;
Officers are required to intervene if they see a fellow officer using excessive force;
Officers should seek to de-escalate a situation, if possible, before using force.
Officers are not permitted to fire “warning shots.”
Officers cannot conduct a cavity search without a warrant.
Officers can use deadly force against an animal if the animal is a threat or if it’s badly injured, diseased or is preventing an officer from accomplishing a lawful objective.
Updating the department’s use of force policy was one of Chief Buckner’s top priorities when he took over the department just more than a year ago. He came into the job just a month after the department lost a police brutality case where lawyers and a former police watchdog ripped into the department’s policies.
Buckner said last year he wanted to include more modern language in the policy to reflect current industry standards.
“The pillars of our use of force policy were intact. We’re a state accredited police agency. But some of the language that I would consider 21st century language — when you talk about sanctity of life — you make that a priority,” Buckner said in an interview with syracuse.com last year. “Many things we were doing in operations were not reflected in our policy language. Or we actually trained on certain things, but it was not reflected in the policy.”
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Published at Tue, 28 Jan 2020 01:27:03 +0000