ALBANY — Democrats in the state Senate unanimously defeated Republican legislation aiming to bolster protection for law enforcement in the wake of continuing tension between communities and police, and a statewide surge in violent crimes.
Senate Republicans proposed nine bills as part of its Protect Those Who Protect Us package, aimed to deter attacks and disorder against law enforcement officers as violent crime has spiked in cities across the state and nation in recent weeks.
The package, endorsed by the New York State Sheriff’s Association, includes legislation to upgrade resisting arrest or following or surveilling a police or peace officer or their family to a class E felony, and upgrading doxing police, aggravated harassment of a police or peace officer, failure to retreat and falsely accusing an officer of wrongdoing criminal charges to a class D felony, which cannot be reduced by plea bargaining and requires a judge to post bail.
Doxing means releasing private information about an individual on the internet, typically with malicious intent.
Senate Republicans also proposed to make any crime committed against a police officer because of his or her profession a hate crime, to provide a $500,000 benefit for police officers who are seriously disabled or die from injuries in the line of duty, and making May 15 Police Memorial Day — a state holiday to honor the more than 1,500 New York officers who died while on duty.
Senate Democrats immediately rejected the proposals. Lawmakers returned to Albany this week — with some representatives voting remotely — in a rare July session because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The Senate Majority Press Office did not return multiple requests for comment Thursday, Friday or Monday about why the Democratic conference does not support the legislation.
“Democrat silence on the violence towards police is unconscionable,” said state Senate Majority Leader Rob Ortt, R-62. “Their vote against protecting law enforcement who are assaulted on the job sends the wrong message. Republicans want the public to know that we will always protect those who protect us.”
Several sheriffs from the state Sheriff’s Association announced 10 proposals during a press conference at the Sheriff’s Association headquarters on Elk Street in Albany to improve police protection. Sheriffs sent the legislative proposals to Gov. Cuomo and Democratic and Republican leaders in the state Senate and Assembly last week. The Senate GOP worked with the Sheriff’s Association to develop the legislative package aimed at protecting law enforcement.
Ortt’s sponsored S312B, which relates to upgrading charges for aggravated harassment of a police officer, and Sen. Fred Akshar’s, R-52, S335 bill, which designates offenses against first responders as hate crimes, were first proposed in January 2019. Both remain in the Codes Committee.
The others were new and introduced this week and remain in the Rules Committee.
“Democrats have defied common sense by creating an environment where law enforcement is under attack and violence on residents is skyrocketing,” Ortt said. “We will continue to advance this important package of bills.”
Senate Republicans said the Protect Those Who Protect Us legislation would deter violence against law enforcement by increasing penalties on existing crimes and creating new categories of crimes as a result of new types of attacks.
“These have been long-standing priorities of the Senate Majority Conference,” Senate Minority Director of Communications Candice Giove said. “What we’re seeing is police under attack.”
Giove recalled a July 15 incident where three protesters beat and injured New York Police Department Chief Terence Monahan, the department’s highest ranking officer, and two other officers on the Brooklyn Bridge with a long, cane-like object near a Unity rally with clergy members calling for an end to New York City’s recent increase in gun violence. New York City shootings are up 63.3%, with 717 incidents this year and 439 in 2019.
Tensions mounted when the group confronted counter-Black Lives Matter protesters who entered the roadway, trying to block the Unity group from crossing.
A woman accused of hitting police with a cane, Chanice Reyes, was released on $7,500 bail. Bail was requested at $75,000.
Two other men attacked Monahan and other officers after police tried to arrest a demonstrator who jumped into the bridge’s roadway during the march. Police released video of the attack. One man seen punching Monahan in the video was released without bail.
“If we do not come together with law enforcement now, public safety will continue to erode,” Giove said.
A 10th bill that would upgrade second-degree assault against first responders to a class C felony; assault on first responders to a class B felony; and aggravated assault of a police or peace officer to a class A felony. The measure, sponsored by state Sen. Daphne Jordan, R-43, is slated for the Protect Those Who Protect Us package. It remains under review by the Senate majority and was not assigned a bill number.
“I would like to have five from their package — they’re all excellent bills,” Jordan said of the sheriff’s association’s recent proposals. “The Democrats were emphatic in their no. We want to protect those who protect us and that makes common sense. If we can’t protect them, how are we going to protect us?”
Republicans in the Senate and Assembly have blasted the state’s bail reform, Raise the Age and last month’s package of police reform legislation, saying they fuel anti-police rhetoric and attitudes, increasing criminal activity. Minority Leader Will Barclay, R-120, led a press event with assembly members in the minority conference July 10 reinforcing their call to reverse controversial criminal justice policies, including bail reform and Raise the Age legislation, which increased New York’s age for adult criminal responsibility.
“The last year-and-a-half, everything seems to be pro-criminal rather than pro-victim or the rule of law,” said Jordan. “New York state is near anarchy with all of this. Government’s job is to protect its people and public safety is of the foremost concern.
Racial tension and distrust between communities and police heightened following the death of 46-year-old George Floyd — an unarmed black man who died while in Minneapolis police custody on Memorial Day — which led to worldwide Black Lives Matter protests.
Jordan discussed violent incidents at some demonstrations — especially in cities including New York and Buffalo — turned violent in late May and early June immediately following Floyd’s death. Several protesters were arrested after throwing bricks, water bottles or Molotov cocktails at police.
Senate Democrats are not looking for the rule of law, but to aid criminals, Jordan said.
“People really have to stop and look and see how our law enforcement is being treated when they’re trying to protect us,” the senator said. “It’s really very sad. There’s no respect for the law, and to let this happen is just unimaginable.”
Sheriff’s Association leaders could not be reached for a statement. Association President and Washington County Sheriff Jeffrey Murphy was not available for comment because of travel.
“We don’t want this to appear we’re being defensive or divisive,” Murphy said July 15. “We’re arguing there’s a problem in the state regarding policing and how law enforcement is viewed right now. It’s extremely important for us to get that message out that we want to work with the governor. We want to work with the Legislature. We want a seat at the table.”
Columbia County Sheriff David Bartlett, the association’s first vice president, did not return a request for comment about the legislation.
Giove said the state GOP’s push for pro-police legislation isn’t over.
“We’re still going to continue to fight for them,” Giove said of the pro-police legislation. “We believe this is the right thing to do.”