CITY HALL — Police Commissioner Bill Bratton said Monday he would not support a law to make chokeholds — the banned NYPD tactic that the medical examiner says helped cause the death of Staten Island man Eric Garner— illegal, insisting that a departmental prohibition is enough.
Asked by Queens Councilman Rory Lancman during a City Council hearing whether he would support a law to make the "dangerous" move illegal, Bratton said: "I would not."
The response drew groans from some anti-police brutality advocates in the Council chambers and caused several of them to throw their hands in the air in a "don't shoot" pose that was used widely by protesters in Ferguson, Mo. after the police shooting death of unarmed teen Michael Brown.
"I don't feel that there's a law that's necessary to deal with that issue," Bratton said after the hearing. "I think there are more than sufficient protocols in place to address a problem."
The chokehold is banned by NYPD policy, but there is no law making it illegal. Both Bratton and Mayor Bill de Blasio said it appeared as if officer Daniel Pantaleo used the banned technique when he was trying to arrest Garner, 43, a father of six, for allegedly selling loose cigarettes.
Police unions have denied that a chokehold was used but the medical examiner said one of the causes of Garner's death was compression of the neck and chest.
City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito disagreed with the commissioner.
"If, as a policy, the NYPD is saying....officers cannot use and implement chokeholds, why then he would be opposed to us legislating?" she said. "That I don't understand."
A spokeswoman for the Rev. Al Sharpton said he also disagrees with Bratton, but added that he wants to meet with the commissioner regarding some of the new NYPD training protocols announced in the wake of Garner's death.
During the two and a half hour hearing Bratton also explained that he wants to hire more than 1,000 new police officers and spend up to $30 million in overtime costs to retrain officers and supervisors on how to verbally and physical engage suspects.
"We're designing a three-day course that will emphasize two core priorities: first, how to talk to an initially uncooperative person with the goal of avoiding a physical confrontation. And second, how to physically restrain a suspect who continues to resist arrest without harm to that individual or the officer," Bratton explained.
The expected request for an increase in officers is a reversal from earlier in the year when the City Council proposed money for more officers and Mayor Bill de Blasio and Bratton both said it wasn't necessary.
Bratton said the shift comes after he's had a chance to complete a review of the department.
The commissioner also acknowledged the need for a "fundamental shift" in police department culture from "an overarching focus on police activity as measured in the numbers of stops, summonses and arrests to an emphasis on collaborative problem solving with the community."
Mark-Viverito prodded Bratton twice to admit explicitly that there was a friction between police and communities of color, however, Bratton spoke only in general terms.
Asked by Brooklyn Councilman Jumaane Williams whether race and class have had an effect on the way policing is handled in New York City, Bratton said that race and class was an "unresolved issue, one that we wrestle with everyday in American policing."
Mark-Viverito said the acknowledgement was a "step forward" from the years of former Police Commissioner Ray Kelly and Mayor Michael Bloomberg and "an acknowledgment that there was and has been an erosion in the relationship between police and the community."
The speaker said she needed more information regarding the "rationale and justification" for the level of spending Bratton indicated he would request, but that the re-emphasis on training to avoid arrest if possible was a "sea change" in police and community relations.