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New York Gov. Cuomo: Now Is The Time For 'Fundamental Redefinition' Of Policing


Lawmakers in New York have passed a package of sweeping police reform bills. They will be some of the first statewide changes to law enforcement since the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis on Memorial Day. New York Democrats have pushed for many of these changes for years, and we are joined now by the state's top Democrat, Gov. Andrew Cuomo, to discuss the reforms as well as the latest response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Gov. Cuomo, thanks for joining us.

ANDREW CUOMO: Thank you for having me, Ari.

SHAPIRO: These are sweeping measures that the legislature has passed, from transparency and disciplinary records to making police chokeholds a felony. Some of these are measures that you had not endorsed until recently even though you've been governor since 2011 and state attorney general before that. Why did you wait until now to get on board with all of these sweeping reforms?

CUOMO: Well, they were - they were reforms that I support. It wasn't - frankly, we didn't have the political support, the popular support to get it done. And what we're trying to do now in New York is we have a different time. We have people who are rightly expressing outrage at the murder of Mr. Floyd. And we've - we've had outrage before but never like this. And it's a moment to make real change. Right? Change comes when the people demand change and the government acts in that moment, seize the moment - carpe momentum. And that's what we're trying to do.

We passed a number of laws. We're also having a period where, over the next nine months, every local government has to redesign their police force in a collaborative with people from the community so we can really institutionalize widespread statewide reform for literally every police department in the state.

SHAPIRO: You say change has to come from the people. Some would argued that it could also come from the top. Eighteen relatives of people who were killed by New York police wrote you an open letter saying it's not OK for you to try to take credit for the movement's work or to pretend you've been a champion for police reform. They write, over the years, you've been one of the most consistent obstacles. How do you respond to that?

CUOMO: Well, you know, people can say a lot of things. But some of the measures that we actually passed into law, I was already doing as executive actions. We make the attorney general the special prosecutor for police killings of unarmed people. I did that five years ago by executive order. When you're the chief executive, you can do things by executive action. You can't legislate it unless you have, in this state, an Assembly and a Senate that are willing to pass it. People tend to think that a governor, chief executive can be a dictator. It doesn't work that way in a democracy. So you can take executive actions, but you need the political support to get a legislative body to actually pass those reforms.

SHAPIRO: You know, when you signed the ban on chokeholds, you said there is no trust between the police and citizens. Do you think these measures go far enough to establish that trust, or is there more that needs to be done?

CUOMO: Oh, I think more needs to be done. I think more should be done. I think this is a fundamental redefinition of what we want as a police force. And the police force will not work unless there's a relationship of respect and trust with the community. And what the community is now saying all across this nation - we don't want this type of police force. And if they don't want it, they shouldn't have it. Right?

SHAPIRO: Do you support the New York City Council's proposal to cut a billion dollars from the NYPD budget?

CUOMO: Well, I think the local governments - I don't think this is just an episodic situation if we do it right. I don't think it's just about cutting a budget, just about passing a law here or there. I think it's time to sit down and redesign the entire police department. Before you cut the budget X amount, do it the other way. How many police do you want? What do you want them to do? What is your use of force policy? How do you when the bias in the police department? What kind of disciplinary procedure do you want? What kind of civilian review board do you want? Answer all of the above questions, not just one or two. This is a moment for change.

But you then have to answer the question. We understand that people are not happy. Now the follow-up is, what do you want to do about it? And what are the exact changes for each police department in the state of New York, over 500? And by state executive order - by my executive order, not law, they must do it in the next nine months or the state is not going to provide them with funding.

SHAPIRO: Of course, this is all happening during a pandemic. And I would like to ask you about that, too. The weather in New York City was beautiful over the weekend, and people flooded the streets in front of restaurants and bars without social distancing or masks as the city entered phase one of its reopening plan. You threatened to reimpose restrictions. What is your decision going to depend on?

CUOMO: New York state is almost an anomaly in this nation right now. You have 23 states where the infection rate is going up. New York state, the infection rate is going down. New York state went from the worst infection rate - because we had cases coming from Europe when everybody told us to watch China. We had the worst infection rate, and now we have the best infection rate, one of the lowest. That's because New Yorkers have been responsible. We understand community and the mutual co-dependence. And we're wearing masks, et cetera. You can't let a small...

SHAPIRO: So what will make the decision for you of whether to reimpose restrictions if people continue to congregate closely without masks?

CUOMO: Yeah. Well, local governments are supposed to be enforcing those guidelines. If the local governments aren't doing it, we could reverse, for that local area, the openings that are causing the rule violation.

SHAPIRO: It sounds like you're warning Mayor Bill de Blasio that he better act.

CUOMO: I'm warning all local governments that they need to act. I'm warning bar owners, restaurant owners - they're supposed to be complying. Citizens are supposed to be complying. It is the law that you must wear a mask or socially distance. And society - I've had only - I've had 25,000 complaints from the people in this state about other people violating the rules because they understand if you are irresponsible, it could affect my health.

SHAPIRO: Gov. Andrew Cuomo of the state of New York, thank you very much for joining us today. We appreciate it.

CUOMO: Thank you. Pleasure to be with you.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Ari Shapiro has been one of the hosts of All Things Considered, NPR's award-winning afternoon newsmagazine, since 2015. During his first two years on the program, listenership to All Things Considered grew at an unprecedented rate, with more people tuning in during a typical quarter-hour than any other program on the radio.