NYPD Watchdog: Police Use of Chokeholds May Be Undercounted

Instances of NYPD chokeholds, a tactic banned by police rules, may be undercounted across the city because of confusion over what actually constitutes a chokehold, according to an NYPD watchdog.

Richard Emery, the newly appointed Chairman of the Civilian Complaint Review Board, said investigators looking into more than 1,100 complaints of police chokeholds haven’t used the same terminology and that the problem may be much more widespread than previously known.

"Different teams of investigators have used different definitions to identify chokehold cases," said Emery.

The renewed focus on chokeholds sprung from the July 17th death of Eric Garner. Police had been trying to arrest Garner for allegedly selling loose cigarettes, and brought him to the ground on a Tompkinsville street in Staten Island.

The city medical examiner has ruled the death a homicide, saying a chokehold killed him. Asthma, heart disease and obesity also contributed to the 43-year-old’s death, the medical examiner determined.

But Maki Haberfield, professor of police tactics at John Jay College of Criminal Justice, said the widely seen maneuver that brought down Garner appeared to be legal.

“I think it was a takedown, but not a chokehold," she said.

Garner’s family has pushed for a federal civil rights investigation even as the Staten Island District Attorney presents the case to a special grand jury.

But the debate over what should be a clearly defined police maneuver is likely to grow -- the the review board is due to deliver its findings from an in-depth review of all chokehold complaints next week.

Emery said one conclusion of the review is: chokeholds are not harmless, and often indicate a larger problem of misconduct.

“The statistics show the officers with the most force complaints have the most chokehold complaints, so there’s a correlation there,” said Emery.

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