Police Commissioner William Bratton said Tuesday that New York law enforcement officers need more training on proper use of force. His remarks came less than a week after a New York man died while police officers tried to arrest him.
Eric Garner, an asthmatic father of six, died last Thursday on the streets of his home borough after police officers attempted to arrest him on suspicion that he was selling loose cigarettes. Bystanders caught the altercation on video, causing widespread outrage.
In the video, one of the officers can be seen wrapping his arm around Garner's throat. Garner can be heard repeatedly saying, "I can't breathe." He eventually stops struggling. A second video shows a number of paramedics neglecting to administer medical aid for Garner.
The pair of videos have stirred controversy, raising the question of whether the police officers and emergency medics involved are responsible for Garner's death. Daniel Pantaleo, the officer who wrapped his arm around Garner's neck, has been stripped of his gun and badge while the New York Police Department conducts an investigation. The fire department has suspended four ambulance medics while it determines whether they followed procedures.
A great deal of the controversy surrounding Garner's death has focused on the question of whether Pantaleo used a chokehold while attempting to subdue the arrestee. The NYPD use of force guidelines from 2013's NYPD Patrol Guide clearly state that chokeholds are strictly prohibited because they can kill suspects.
"Members of the New York City Police Department will NOT use chokeholds," the guide reads. "A chokehold shall include, but is not limited to, any pressure to the throat or windpipe, which may prevent or hinder breathing or reduce intake of air."
Shortly after the video emerged, Mayor Bill de Blasio told reporters that Pantaleo's grip on Garner's throat "looked like a chokehold," but qualified by saying that he is not "an expert in law enforcement."
At Tuesday's press conference, Bratton said that he did not believe race had been an issue in Garner's death.
The commissioner also said that the city remains committed to the "broken windows" theory of policing.
The "broken windows" theory, which implies prosecuting minor crimes such as graffiti with a zero tolerance approach in hopes of preventing criminal behavior from escalating, has proven controversial since it was first proposed in the 1980s. Supporters credit it with a dramatic decrease in violent crime in the United States during that period, while detractors accuse it of being inherently racist.
Garner's arrest, stemming from suspicions that he was selling loose cigarettes, is in some ways representative of the theory.