NY State Police investigators raise concerns on NYC arrest-restraint rules

By Brendan J. Lyons
Times Union, Albany, N.Y.

ALBANY, N.Y. — The union representing State Police investigators on Thursday said that troopers and investigators deployed in New York City’s five boroughs could face arrest on misdemeanor charges if they use restraint techniques that are part of their training but have been banned under new codes adopted by the City Council and Mayor Bill de Blasio.

“They have trained their whole career to effectively control a resistant subject by methods that were taught by instructors with the New York State Police and now we’re being told we can’t do that anymore and, in my opinion, it’s placing the investigators and senior investigators who work in these situations in a vulnerable situation,” said union Vice President Ronald Pierone.

A New York State Police cruiser along the Erie Canal in Rotterdam Junction, New York. (Photo/New York State Police)
A New York State Police cruiser along the Erie Canal in Rotterdam Junction, New York. (Photo/New York State Police)

The changes adopted by the New York City Council, which were intended to largely influence physical confrontations between civilians and the New York Police Department, make it a misdemeanor crime for a police officer to use any neck restraints or to put their knees on the back or stomach of a person.

State Police leaders issued a directive to the agency’s members earlier this week cautioning them about the city’s ordinances.

But for a trooper, turning off years of training may not be simple, Pierone said, and could create more dangerous situations if a person who is combative cannot be restrained and their behavior escalates to the point the trooper may need to use a Taser, baton, pepper spray or even deadly force if their life becomes endangered.

“It’s ingrained. It’s (a) muscle-memory thing,” Pierone said. “You have guys down there that have made hundreds of arrests and some of the arrests go simple, no issues. … It’s going to be a difficult process to tell yourself, ‘well I’m in one of the five boroughs of New York City and I can’t do that now.'”

The roughly five restraints banned by New York City, including sitting, standing or kneeling on a person’s back or chest, are considered a proper restraint by other police agencies across the state. Police consider the methods “non-violent restraining techniques” that they said safely subdue people who are combative with the least amount of force.

But the controversy follows a series of highly publicized cases in which people have died during physical encounters with police, including some who succumbed after being placed in chokeholds. Still, police officials said many of those cases involved officers who may have used improper techniques.

New York City and many other municipalities across the country began changing or debating police use of force techniques in the wake of protests that followed the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis. He died after a police officer kneeled on his neck for nearly nine minutes as Floyd was handcuffed and complaining that he could not breathe. Many police use-of-force experts have said that officer, who has been charged with murder, was using force that was unjustified and is not part of their training.

There are more than 100 State Police investigators and senior investigators deployed in New York City, many of them assigned to narcotics and organized crime task forces, as well as violent felony warrant squads.

“A police officer who is forced to struggle with a criminal who refuses to follow a lawful order may be charged with a crime in New York City even though his/her actions are lawful everywhere else in New York state, may not be intentional, and no one was injured,” the investigators’ union said in a statement.

Last week, the head of the New York State Troopers PBA issued a statement demanding that state troopers be removed from New York City “and cease any law enforcement activities within that jurisdiction.”

 “We have arrived at this unfortunate decision due to the hastily written so-called police reform legislation recently passed by the New York City Council,” said PBA President Thomas H. Mungeer.

But there is no indication that troopers will be removed from New York City, where many patrol airports, bridges and tunnels.

State Police are arranging for troopers and investigators assigned to New York City to receive additional training on the restraint laws, a spokesman said.

©2020 the Times Union (Albany, N.Y.)