Mayor Adams faces a potential roadblock in his quest to clean up the streets: the new Manhattan district attorney, Alvin Bragg.
Mr. Bragg just instructed his staff that he won’t be prosecuting a number of minor offenses and will be downgrading some serious crimes such as armed robbery. It is unclear if the district attorney’s new policies will undermine the mayor’s promises.
Mr. Adams campaigned on a message of bringing safety to the city, saying, “We cannot go back to a New York that is unsafe for New Yorkers.”
Mr. Adams said he would be “laser-focused” on violent crime as mayor even while “civilianizing areas of the NYPD that don’t need to be staffed by cops.”
As a candidate, Mr. Adams did favor turning “some common criminal court summonses into civil matters, so that offenders are still ticketed — but not in the criminal system.”
Yet Mr. Bragg proposes to take this policy to an extreme. In a January 3 memo to staff, Mr. Bragg said that “reserving incarceration for matters involving significant harm will make us safer.”
Police union leaders disagree. “He’s emboldening the criminal element to resist arrest and put New York City police officers and detectives in harm’s way,” Paul DiGiacomo, who leads the NYPD Detectives’ Endowment Association, told the Daily News.
“Police officers don’t want to be sent out to enforce laws that the district attorneys won’t prosecute,” Patrick Lynch, head of the Police Benevolent Association, said in the New York Post.
Some of the new policies are relatively benign. For example, the district attorney’s office will no longer prosecute subway fare evasion, marijuana misdemeanors, or adultery.
Some of these crimes, such as fare evasion, also were not prosecuted by the previous district attorney.
On the other end of the spectrum, armed robbery — a felony — will be downgraded to a misdemeanor offense if the offender “does not create a genuine risk of physical harm.”
Furthermore, “the possession of a non-firearm weapon” will be downgraded to a misdemeanor unless the offender is also charged with a more serious crime.
These new policies from the district attorney’s office strike a different tone from Mr. Adams’s promise of “being laser-focused on violent crime.” The two officials might soon find themselves at odds over crime-fighting strategies.
Seeing as Mr. Adams dialed 911 on his first day in office to report three men “fighting each other in the street,” it appears that the mayor is especially concerned about violent crime.
As a candidate, Mr. Adams pledged “to be an ardent supporter of ‘broken windows’ policing,” adding: “I know firsthand that we cannot tolerate quality-of-life disturbances.”
Broken windows policing refers to the idea that police can “reduce disorder and non-disorder crime through disorder policing efforts,” according to the Center for Evidence-Based Crime Policy. New York City is the most famous example of successful broken windows policing.
The underlying idea is to “tackle disorder collectively in a way that still respects the civil liberties of offenders,” the Center says. The strategy should be “far more nuanced than zero tolerance allows.”
Although Mr. Adams presented his own version of broken windows policing as a candidate, his proposed reforms took aim at only summons-level offenses, which do not rise to the level of a misdemeanor or felony.
“Think of these summons-able offenses as a crack in one of our windows. A warrant will not repair that crack; it will kick the problem down the road and lead to a bigger break,” Mr. Adams said.
The underlying idea behind this policy is meant to ensure that minor offenses won’t leave marks on the offenders’ permanent records. Many New Yorkers are issued summonses for minor offenses. Failure to answer these summonses result in arrest warrants.
Some 140,00 New Yorkers have outstanding warrants following arrests for offenses such as “bicycling on a sidewalk or drinking an open container of alcohol in public,” Mr. Adams said as a candidate.
The district attorney’s new policies go further toward downgrading serious crimes. It is unclear how these will mesh with the mayor’s goal of cleaning up New York’s streets.
Image: Mayor Adams