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RPD bans chokeholds, orders officers to intervene


Rochester police officers must step in when they witness a colleague using unreasonable force and chokeholds are now barred under two new departmental orders issued Monday.

The orders, signed by Chief Cynthia Herriott-Sullivan, serve in part to prepare for a state-mandated plan to reimagine policing that is due for all municipalities across the state by April 1.

Under the first order, officers would have what was dubbed “a duty to intervene” in situations in which they perceive a fellow officer exerting too much force. Interventions can range from verbal to physical and should be executed only “when it is safe and feasible to do so.”

The offending officer is expected to accept the intervention, according to the order, and “any use of physical force to intervene must be objectively reasonable, necessary, and proportional under the totality of the circumstances.” The officer must also be reported to a supervisor, as was the case under a previous order.

The order banning the police use of chokeholds effectively piggybacks on a state law adopted last summer that criminalized the technique when used by law enforcement. The “Eric Garner Anti-Chokehold Act” — named for the Staten Island man who was strangled to death by a New York City police officer in 2014 — characterizes police chokeholds as “aggravated strangulation” and classifies that as a Class C felony.

Herriott-Sullivan’s order cites the state law and defines chokeholds as “any method of restricting the flow of blood to the brain by compressing the sides of the neck where the carotid arteries are located.” The order leaves room for the use of chokeholds “in extreme circumstances where deadly use of force is authorized.”

Formalizing a prohibition on chokeholds in Rochester was something called for by police activists and watchdogs, including the city’s newly-formed Police Accountability Board.

Conor Dwyer Reynolds, the executive director of the PAB, expressed skepticism about the effectiveness of both orders, however, calling them "unhelpfully vague."

"Unfortunately, I can't say for certain these policies will change much, if anything," he wrote in an email to the board. "There are loopholes in both new rules."

He noted that neither made mention of any new discipline measures to reinforce the orders and cast the “duty to intervene” as being overly subjective in that it leaves up to officers when to it is “safe and feasible” to step in.

“Without knowing what training officers are undergoing to learn about these new policies, we can’t say they will be more than words on a piece of paper,” Reynolds wrote.

Includes reporting by CITY staff writer Gino Fanelli.

David Andreatta is CITY's editor. He can be reached at [email protected].