- Associated Press - Tuesday, December 9, 2014

ALBANY, N.Y. (AP) - Most of New York’s Democratic state senators advocated legislation Tuesday to establish a special state prosecutor to investigate deaths caused by police.

Seventeen current and newly elected Democratic senators said they back the proposed Office of Special Investigation within the state Attorney General’s Office. It would automatically review any offense by a police officer resulting in the death of an unarmed individual and consider petitions to review cases when the victim is allegedly armed.

Sen. Andrea Stewart-Cousins, who leads Democrats in the Republican-controlled chamber, said Eric Garner’s death by police on Staten Island, videotaped and widely watched, and the subsequent grand jury decision not to indict any officers were “disturbing.” The criminal justice system needs to be reformed to ensure civilians are protected and to restore public trust in law enforcement, she said.

Sen. Ruth Hassell-Thompson, a Bronx legislator and ranking Democrat on the Senate’s judiciary and crime victims committees, said they are responding to “the crisis involving use of excessive force by some members of law enforcement in New York state in particular and across the country in general.”

Deaths of unarmed black people have left “an indelible mark” on the black community, Hassell-Thompson said. With many whites, Latinos, Asians and Native Americans joining in the peaceful protests for change, that shows the need for justice for all, as well as “the need for our leaders to affirm that black lives matter,” she said.

“The people of New York want the shootings and chokings of unarmed citizens to end,” she said.

Attorney General Eric Schneiderman on Monday asked Gov. Andrew Cuomo in a letter to authorize his office to investigate killings by police of unarmed civilians until the Legislature addresses the issue.

The Cuomo administration is reviewing Schneiderman’s proposal and others in a broad review with stakeholders and criminal justice experts. Cuomo, like Schneiderman and the Senate Democrats, says recent incidents have damaged public trust in the criminal justice system, and suggests review topics include police cameras, law enforcement training and changes to the grand jury process.

The Senate Democrats also proposed Cuomo put about $75 million in the upcoming budget for police to buy and video cameras for officers to wear.


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