During widespread protests in New York last summer after the killing of Eric Garner by police officer Daniel Pantaleo (who was not charged in Garner's killing), New York City Police Commissioner Bill Bratton had this message for protesters: "You must submit to arrest, you cannot resist …The place to argue your case is in the courts, not in the streets."
Now, it looks like he supports punishing protesters even more harshly for resisting arrest.
According to Buzzfeed's Nicolas Medina Mora, Bratton was asked about resisting arrest while testifying before the State Senate Wednesday:
NY State Senate is asking NYPD whether they should make resisting arrest a felony, in the context of discussion of protests.— Nicolás Medina Mora (@MedinaMora) February 4, 2015
.@CommissBratton comes out in support of increasing penalties for resisting arrest.— Nicolás Medina Mora (@MedinaMora) February 4, 2015
If the state legislators asked Bratton about this, it's possible that they're at least considering changing New York law to make it a felony to resist arrest. This could spell disaster for New Yorkers, for one big reason: resisting arrest charges are used mostly by a small share of cops, many of whom are among the most abusive.
Bratton told the State Senate (according to Buzzfeed) that "if you don't want us to enforce something, don't make it a law." But that's the opposite of how resisting-arrest cases actually work. Most cops don't bring in many, or any, people for resisting arrest. But a few cops bring in a lot.
In New York, in particular — according to a 2014 report from WNYC — 40 percent of resisting-arrest cases are brought in by 5 percent of police officers:
Here's why that matters: if a cop is routinely hauling people into court for resisting arrest, he might be taking an overly aggressive attitude toward civilians. A police officer might even, as police accountability expert Sam Walker told WNYC, use the criminal charge to cover up his use of excessive force:
"There's a widespread pattern in American policing where resisting arrest charges are used to sort of cover - and that phrase is used - the officer's use of force," said Walker, the accountability expert from the University of Nebraska. "Why did the officer use force? Well, the person was resisting arrest."
As the New York Times reported in September 2014, even the NYPD itself might be tracking resisting-arrest cases as a red flag for excessive force:
Many policing experts consider charges of resisting arrest to be the best broad measure of use of force in arrests. The department has tracked charges of resisting arrest as a way of identifying officers who may use excessive force, said a former senior department official who insisted on anonymity because he still works in law enforcement.
If resisting arrest is a reasonable indicator of the use of force, department statistics for 2013 suggest that officers used force more regularly than indicated on arrest reports. In 2013, there were 12,453 arrests that included charges of resisting arrest, about 3.1 percent of all arrests, thousands more than the total number of recorded uses of force.
If "resisting arrest" charges can sometimes say more about the police officer than they do about the defendant, making the charge a felony won't discourage the phenomenon — it gives more power to the police. Residents, meanwhile, could conceivably have to deal with possible prison time and a permanent criminal record for getting on the wrong side of the wrong cop.