Main | Friday, May 01, 2015

New York City Council Speaker Seeks To Decriminalize Some Petty Offenses

The New York City Council is contemplating decriminalizing the six petty offenses listed above in a poll by the Wall Street Journal.
New York City Council’s speaker and lawmakers are discussing amending the city’s code to make six low-level offenses civil violations, rather than criminal offenses. However, the plan to decriminalize these low-level violations has sparked intense debate among state and city officials about how these so-called quality-of-life offenses should be treated by police and the courts. The city has long had a “broken windows” philosophy of policing, in which low-level crimes are aggressively pursued in hopes of deterring more serious ones. The offenses under consideration for decriminalization include public consumption of alcohol, bicycling on the sidewalk, being in a park after dark, failure to obey a park sign, littering (the offense used for public urination) and turnstile jumping.
NYPD Commissioner Bill Bratton is strongly opposed:
Bratton released a 41-page report that finds arrests for numerous types of misdemeanors fell in the first quarter of 2015 compared with the same period a year earlier. Meanwhile, the NYPD has seen an increase in the number of desk appearance tickets it gives for misdemeanor arrests versus making defendants go before a judge for an arraignment. That number was 41 percent last year, the highest over the 14-year period dating to 2000. The report suggests that quality-of-life policing and misdemeanor arrests "forestall felony crime." Enforcement actions of all kinds have been declining in New York City in what Bratton has called the "peace dividend." "None of this means we can't explore alternatives to misdemeanor arrests," he said. "We can and we are doing so. We can be more considered and more considerate. We can be more respectful and more respected, and we will be." Bratton said the city was a "mess" in the 1970s and 80s when quality-of-life crimes were neglected. What brought the city back, and what Bratton said he is doubling down on now, is so-called broken windows policing.
Yesterday the speaker of the City Council claimed that her plan is backed by Hillary Clinton:
Hillary Clinton's criminal justice speech Wednesday provided fodder for the debate over decriminalizing minor offenses in New York, with City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito claiming to have Clinton in her corner while Mayor de Blasio insisted he would keep up enforcement against quality-of-life offenses. Mark-Viverito quickly embraced Clinton's call for "alternative punishments for low-level offenders" and suggested it places the leading presidential contender on the side of her push to decriminalize violations like public drinking and turnstile jumping. "Secretary Clinton today laid out the type of progressive vision on criminal justice reforms the City Council is fighting for in New York City," she said in a statement. "From finding alternative punishments for low-level offenses which will help keep people out of jails like Rikers Island, to adding more officers to the street in order to strengthen police-community relations and foster more trust, Secretary Clinton today articulated a bold vision."

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