In May 2015, Yonkers Police, along with NYPD Detectives, investigators from the city’s Special Narcotics Prosecutor and agents from the Federal Drug Enforcement Administration waited out an early Sunday morning on West 251st St. in The Bronx neighborhood of Fieldston.
Following a months-long investigation into narcotics shipments coming from Mexico, they were readying for a bust that would make headlines.
A drug-sniffing dog from the Yonkers PD had just confirmed the presence of narcotics inside a Chevrolet Suburban parked behind the Deauville apartments a half-block from Van Cortlandt Park. When a 19-year-old man stepped into the SUV, they moved in.
Inside the vehicle, they would find 70 rectangular-shaped, each marked “Rolex,” each weighing a kilo, all of it heroin. Sold on the street, the dope would have fetched $50 million. The seizure remains one of the largest of its type on U.S. soil.
Yonkers Police, though, are unlikely to participate in a similar operation or, for that matter, in any law-enforcement activity in The Bronx or anywhere in the city for some time.
Along with counterparts in several localities neighboring the five boroughs, the Yonkers Police Chief recently issued an order prohibiting his officers from engaging in enforcement actions in the city.
Their reasons? A recently enacted city law that criminalizes the use of certain restraint methods on resistant suspects, including, in particular, by purposefully "sitting, kneeling, or standing on the chest or back in a manner that compresses the diaphragm" for a length of time.
“Despite our best efforts to minimize the use of force, it remains well possible that a police officer’s knee may end up on the chest or back of a violent suspect during a scuffle or arrest, especially during a one-on-one situation,” Chief John Mueller said in statement issued by that city July 17, two days after Mayor de Blasio signed the bill into law. “We will not subject our officers to the threat of a year in jail every time they have to deal with a violent or mentally ill subject resisting arrest. New York City’s new law goes beyond effective policing. It jeopardizes the safety of both police officers and the public.”
He said Yonkers police would stop at the city line “absent extreme circumstances.”
Police departments in Westchester, Nassau and Suffolk counties, and those in the towns South Nyack/Grand View and New Rochelle, issued similar orders.
Citing the diaphragm bill, the State Troopers Police Benevolent Association president earlier this month called on that agency to pull back officers from New York City.
“I’m troubled, and I don’t want to see my Troopers civilly or criminally liable for something they were trained to do,” Thomas Mungeer said.
A Yonkers Police official said there are a few reasons that city’s officers would cross over into the city, one being a hot pursuit, or activity by a warrant squad. Lieut. Dean Politopoulos said the city doesn’t keep precise data on those incursions, then added: “I wouldn’t say it’s an everyday occurrence, but it’s not infrequent either.”
Councilman Rory Lancman, who authored that portion of the legislation, was not concerned by those police departments’ trepidations.
“If there are any police departments from other jurisdictions who aren’t willing to come to New York City and not choke someone to death, they’re better off staying where they are,” he said during a July 20 interview.
Brushes Off NYPD Concerns
He also dismissed concerns, which have been pronounced, about the law from the NYPD itself. Mr. Lancman’s bill formed part of a package of legislation increasing scrutiny of police activities passed by the City Council, including its surveillance activities and internal discipline process.
But Police Commissioner Dermot Shea and Chief of Department Terence Monahan have been most critical of the diaphragm bill, with Chief Monahan calling it “insanity” during the NYPD’s July 6 briefing on crime statistics.
Ten days later, Commissioner Shea lambasted city officials—he did not name them—for being “cowards.”
“They’re failing at every possible measure to be leaders,” he told officers during a CompStat meeting July 16. People who don’t have a clue about how to keep New Yorkers safe suddenly think they know about policing. I have another thing to tell them: they don’t have a goddamn clue what they’re talking about.”
Police unions have also railed against the law, with the president of the Sergeants Benevolent Association saying that it has effectively shackled officers and unleashed lawbreakers.
"Police officers are not going out and engaging people in the street,” Ed Mullins said earlier this month. “They are very concerned about being indicted by the District Attorneys’ offices.”
Calls Them Insubordinate
Mr. Lancman dismissed all of those concerns as rhetorical subterfuge.
Their opposition to the new law “is just the NYPD’s strategy to kill this kind of reform altogether,” he said, noting that the department opposed a prohibition on chokeholds for six years before supporting it following George Floyd’s death in Minneapolis.
NYPD leadership, particularly Commissioner Shea, were engaging in “insubordination,” and in effect were saying, “ ‘We’re not going to do our job unless we can do it without any interference from the public’s democratically-elected representatives,’ including their boss, the Mayor,” Mr. Lancman said.
Signing the bill into law, Mr. de Blasio, though, suggested the diaphragm law could merit review. Alluding to the consternation of “many” at the NYPD, he said “we need to acknowledge those concerns, because they’re saying in the effort to keep us safe, they want to make sure they can do their job on our behalf.
“As with all legislation, if something happens that’s unintended, we will name it, and we will determine how to act together,” he said.
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