By Brett Gillin
An interesting debate is popping up after NYPD Commissioner Bill Bratton’s visit to Capitol Hill last week. During that visit, which coincided with the Senate’s hearing on the protests against police brutality that have been occurring throughout the nation, Bratton made a request of the Senate. He wants the penalty for resisting arrest to change from a misdemeanor offense to a felony. Now, another standoff is taking place between those for and against this idea.
Those on Bratton’s side make a simple case: With harsher penalties for resisting arrest, incidents like those that led to Eric Garner’s death will decrease dramatically. In fact, Bratton himself told reporters “We need to get around this idea that you can resist arrest. It results in potential injuries to the officer, to the suspect. And we need to change that, and the way to change that is to start penalties for it.”
When Bratton speaks of the idea that you “can resist arrest,” he seems to be referencing the fact that only 6.2% of misdemeanor resisting arrest charges ever result in a conviction, according to the New York Post. The Post goes on to explain that almost 50% of the charges are dismissed and never tried at all.
An unidentified high ranking police official is quoted in the Post as saying “There is no legal consequence [for resisting arrests] and a lot of guys know it. If you resist arrest and get away, you’re free and clear. But if you’re caught, you know that the charge has no teeth.”
While this argument makes perfect sense, opponents of the measure say that the conviction rate is so low for different reasons. According to this article on NPR’s Code Switch, the reason these charges aren’t sticking may be due to the fact that the charges themselves are actually suspect, not the weakness of the laws.
“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,” Samuel Walker, a well-known author and professor emeritus at the University of Nebraska told reporters with WNYC. “Why did the officer use force? Well, the person was resisting arrest.”
NPR followed up with Walker, who was asked to speak before President Obama’s task force on policing, asking him to further explain his statements. Walker explained that it is a very small minority of officers who are responsible for the majority of these charges.
“The question is: Why does this officer file resisting arrest charges so much more often than a peer officer who is working the same detail?” Walker asked NPR. NPR then dug into his claim and found that only 5 percent of NYPD officers accounted for 40% of all resisting arrest charges, lending some credence to what Walker was saying. While the debate will continue as to whether raising the penalties for resisting arrest will make a difference, Bratton doesn’t plan on waiting to see how it shakes out.
Just in cases Bratton’s words don’t lead to action in the Senate, he has vowed to do everything he can locally to solve the issues of these charges not seeming to stick. According to this article in CBS New York, Bratton is planning on meeting with the five district attorneys of New York to ask them to take the resisting arrest charges more seriously, and not drop them so easily.
“We’re going to actually CompStat the process,” Bratton told reporters. “We’re going to track them very, very closely going forward. Why weren’t charges accepted and filed? Was it on our end, omissions on preparation?”