State Sen. Fred Akshar Addresses New York Police Reform Concerns

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BINGHAMTON, NY (WSKG) – State Sen. Fred Akshar (NY-52) had some concerns about the measures passed in New York’s police reform package this week. Akshar’s district includes Tioga, Broome and part of Chenango and Delaware Counties.

Bret Jaspers/WSKG

FILE PHOTO: NY State Sen. Fred Akshar (Bret Jaspers/WSKG)

The package, part of which passed through the state legislature on Wednesday, included measures that ban police chokeholds, require state troopers to wear body cameras and repeal a section of a civil rights law 50-A, which many police forces and local governments used to shield police disciplinary records from the public. Only two other states—California and Delaware—have statutes exempting police officers from public record laws.

Akshar spent 15 years working in law enforcement in the Southern Tier. Speaking on WMHT’s New York NOW, Akshar said he thought parts of the legislation could take away officers’ protections.

The Republican claimed repealing 50-A will take away legal protections for police, although existing state laws protect officers’ privacy and security interests.

“For me, personally, this comes down to due process, and every American under the constitution is afforded due process,” Akshar said.

All of the Republican state senators, Akshar among them, voted against the bill.

The Eric Garner Anti-Chokehold Act, a measure to ban and criminalize the use of chokeholds, passed unanimously in the state senate with bipartisan support. The bill was named in honor of Eric Garner, a black man who died after a New York City police officer put him in a chokehold. Garner’s dying words, “I can’t breathe,” rippled throughout the world and became a common chant at protests around the Black Lives Matter movement.

Akshar said he did not initially support the ban but changed his mind once the bill’s sponsor, Democrat Brian A. Benjamin (NY-30), assured him an officer who uses a chokehold when it is the only possible way to defend themself or others would be allowed to do so.

“I wanted reassurances that, if a member of law enforcement found themselves in a situation in which the only way they could save their own life or the life of someone else was to apply a chokehold, I wanted assurances that that member of law enforcement would be afforded the defense of justification,” Akshar said.

The bill does not bar officers from using other means of force while making arrests or preventing an escape.

Cuomo applauded the state legislature’s speed in passing the reform package and is expected to sign it into law.