By Ed Lachterman
This is an open letter to state Sen. Peter Harckham and Assemblyman Kevin Byrne.
As the state representatives for Yorktown, I am writing to you to voice my deep concerns regarding the current crop of legislation being proposed to address the current hysteria to curtail law enforcement. In particular, the bill numbers are A10651, A10666, A10671, S8621, S8583, S8577, S8601, S8612 and S8668.
Collectively, these bills, I assume, are being introduced hastily to address perceived problems in law enforcement in the wake of the current political hyperbole. Legislation written in haste and in reaction to inarticulate mob demands usually results in adverse and counterproductive consequences.
To illustrate, the mobs’ demand to eliminate the concept of qualified immunity as a defense in excessive force cases is counterproductive. Eliminating the concept of qualified immunity will only hamper law enforcement, not enhance the existing protections and recourses for cases of actual excessive force.
Qualified immunity by its very terms is not absolute immunity. Any public official, police officers included, under the present law are liable for the unconstitutional application of excessive force and/or unreasonable searches and seizures. The immunity provided by the doctrine of qualified immunity applies only when under the particular facts a police officer’s actions are deemed reasonable. Police often must react in a matter of split seconds when faced with situations that threaten their lives or the lives of the public they serve. Doing away with the already limited qualified immunity defense will render policing to post-criminal act investigations and deter effective crime prevention.
In reading the synopsis of these bills, I find the language to be vague in most, and I question their intention. While we all want to ensure our police departments to be perfect, there will always be room for improvement. To introduce bills that strip away the long-standing protections of our police when they are acting within agency guidelines and in good faith, does nothing to help keep anyone safe, especially when the police are not involved in the process. It endangers our law enforcement officers and it endangers the public. It leads to reactive instead of proactive policing.
The current crop of bills is political pandering to the mob; its actual consideration an example of the cowardice and lack of leadership of our political class. It seems our state legislature has bought into the perpetrated falsehoods of the mob. Where is our much-needed leadership that at the very least should be questioning the false assumptions to which the current proposed legislation is paying homage?
There exists a very dangerous portrayal of law enforcement that is achieving its goal to cause a virulent political riff. It is now accepted behavior to brazenly attack uniformed police in New York City. It is at the point that Westchester police officers have been asked not to go to New York City for any law enforcement activities due to the hastily passed and ill-conceived laws passed by the City Council.
There are groups that have turned a mantra feigning concern for the Black community while pressing an alternative political agenda. True concern for the Black community would be to support and demand greater police protections, because absent a sense of personal security, no community can thrive.
There is an extremely small fraction of police interactions, .05 percent out of the 55 million per year, that garner complaints and only about 8 percent of the complaints are sustained, according to figures collected by the Bureau of Justice Statistics. To say that this translates into this systemic policing problem makes me question the motivation and the integrity of anyone that would introduce or vote for these bills.
I encourage both of you to ask your peers to pump the breaks on these bills and, if the chambers want to revisit these laws, have a constructive conversation with our police departments to make sure that we are working inclusively to solve the problem and not create greater riffs between the police and our communities.
Ed Lachterman is a Yorktown town councilman.