SCHENECTADY — City Mayor Gary McCarthy signed on executive order Wednesday banning knee-to-neck and chokeholds by the police department.
The order came hours after the state Legislature passed a suite of police reform bills, including a statewide ban on chokeholds, repealing legislation that shields police disciplinary records from the public and creating a special prosecutor’s division to investigate police-involved deaths.
Gov. Andrew Cuomo has said he will sign the legislation into law.
McCarthy’s order also requires officers to intervene when they witness a fellow officer using excessive force and verbally escalating an interaction and to report all excessive force incidents to a supervisor.
Officers will also continue to be trained in de-escalation techniques and seek to eliminate the use of implicit bias, “which refers to the automatic associations people make between groups of people, as well as well as stereotypes about those groups.”
The ban took effect Wednesday.
While Chief Eric Clifford couldn’t recall the last time choke holds were used in the city, he previously said he was opposed to a ban, citing the need to ensure officers have every tool available to them in a life-or-death situation.
McCarthy said the order is to “reaffirm to our residents our commitment to justice and equity.”
“After years of litigation, we affirmed the right to use the commissioner form of police discipline which has been extraordinarily successful here in Schenectady and has created a model for other communities to follow,” McCarthy said in a prepared statement.
McCarthy’s order comes as other local departments in the Capital Region are swiftly making changes amid sustained demonstrations protesting the death of George Floyd at the hands of a Minneapolis police officer last month.
Albany City Council announced similar reforms earlier this week, while Troy appointed eight people to its Police Objective Review Board on Monday, appointments that had been delayed due to what officials attributed to the COVID-19 pandemic and subsequent closure of city facilities.
Activists have attributed the changes directly to their sustained pressure, including a protest scheduled for Thursday evening at City Hall.
“We know the reason [McCarthy] signed an executive order is because [we] called him out,” organizers of All of Us wrote on Facebook. “It means we’re being loud enough for him to hear us. Let’s stay loud and make sure he is clear on our demands AND writes those orders too.”
City Council on Monday directly addressed the sweeping movement protesting systemic racism and police brutality for the first time, praising both protesters and city police for last month’s demonstrations that ended with Clifford and officers taking a knee, days before the gesture became standard practice at departments nationwide.
“They reinforced the ideal that societal changes can be influenced without violence or divisiveness,” said Councilwoman Carmel Patrick.
Councilwoman Marion Porterfield hailed organizers Mikayla Foster and Legacy Casanova by name, and said peaceful outcomes allow stakeholders to focus on building momentum.
“Rather than having to spend the time building up after violence, we can spend the time doing something positive and making the changes that need to happen within our community,” Porterfield said.
Lawmakers encouraged people to email them to foster a dialogue.
“It’s only the beginning and hopefully a short journey for where we need to be,” said Councilman John Polimeni.