Governor Andrew Cuomo of the US state signs law that will ban police chokeholds, prohibit false race-based 911 calls, and set up a special prosecutor's office to probe deaths during police encounters.

Demonstrators protest against racial inequality in the aftermath of the death in Minneapolis police custody of George Floyd, in New York City, New York, US on June 11, 2020.
Demonstrators protest against racial inequality in the aftermath of the death in Minneapolis police custody of George Floyd, in New York City, New York, US on June 11, 2020. (Reuters)

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo signed into law on Friday a sweeping package of police accountability measures that received new backing following protests of George Floyd's killing, including one allowing the release of officers' long-withheld disciplinary records.

"Police reform is long overdue and Mr Floyd’s murder is only the most recent murder," Cuomo, a Democrat, said.

The measures were approved earlier this week by the state's Democratic-led Legislature. 

Some of the bills had been proposed in years past and failed to win approval, but lawmakers moved with new urgency in the wake of massive, nationwide demonstrations over Floyd's death at the hands of police in Minneapolis.

What does the law ban?

The laws will ban police chokeholds, make it easier to sue people who call police on others without good reason, and set up a special prosecutor’s office to investigate the deaths of people during and following encounters with police officers.

READ MORE: George Floyd’s death ushers in long-sought changes in policy, pop culture

Some bills, including body camera legislation, drew support from Republicans, who opposed legislation that repealed a state law long used to block the release of police disciplinary records over concerns about officers' privacy.

Eliminating the law, known as Section 50-a, would make complaints against officers, as well as transcripts and final dispositions of disciplinary proceedings, public for the first time in decades.

Reinventing police departments

Cuomo said he will require local governments to develop and adopt by April 1 plans to reinvent police departments to address use of force, police bias and other issues that have triggered anti-racism protests.

Cuomo said he would sign an executive order that says state funding will go only to municipalities with laws mandating their police departments "reinvent and modernise" to battle systemic racism.

"That should be done in every police agency in this country," Cuomo said.

'I can’t breathe!'

He spoke alongside the mothers of Eric Garner and Sean Bell, unarmed black Americans who died in confrontations with New York City police.

Garner's death on a Staten Island sidewalk came after a white officer used a deadly chokehold on him during a 2014 arrest. 

His dying words, "I can’t breathe!", became a rallying cry for the Black Lives Matter movement decrying police killings of unarmed black people.

Floyd, 46, handcuffed and lying face down on a Minneapolis street while an officer knelt into the back of his neck for nearly nine minutes, also cried out "please, I can’t breathe," before falling silent and still.

New York poised to vote on surveillance technologies

New York City politicians are expected to vote next week to force its police force to divulge the surveillance technology it uses.

City council members will vote on June 18 on a long-delayed oversight bill that would force the New York Police Department to give details about its surveillance tools, the council's speaker's office said.

The Public Oversight of Surveillance Technology (POST) Act already has enough co-sponsors to win the two-thirds support needed to override the veto from the mayor, who has opposed the bill.

"New Yorkers deserve to know the type of surveillance that NYPD uses in communities and its impacts," Council Speaker Corey Johnson said in a statement.

Like other proposed police reforms, the POST Act has been in limbo for years. Backers said anger over the death of African American George Floyd in Minneapolis and its aftermath helped push the legislation forward.

Similar rules exist in other cities, but politicians and privacy advocates said a surveillance audit for the NYPD was likely to have a particularly significant effect.

"It's by far the biggest police force with by far the biggest budget," council member Brad Lander, who backs the bill, told Reuters. He said it would empower citizens elsewhere "to go to their municipalities and ask, 'Are you using this too?'"

The NYPD, which did not return messages seeking comment, has vehemently opposed the bill. In 2017, Deputy Commissioner of Intelligence and Counterterrorism John Miller said it would "require us to advertise sensitive technologies that criminals and terrorists do not fully understand."

Source: AP