The Right Path for Criminal Justice Reform Op-Ed

| 06 Jun 2016 | 05:00

Unlike other major cities across the country, crime has decreased significantly in NYC over the last few years and continues to decline.

What changed? Thoughtful policing has played a major role. The guiding philosophy of the NYPD is to get to know the community and make it safer. They use new technology to identify where bullets are coming from prior to arriving at the scene of the crime. They use data analysis to enhance smart policing instead of relying on “stop and frisk” — which has decreased by 90% over the past two years. The NYPD has brought down more gangs and taken more guns off the street than had been done during the era of “stop and frisk.”

In May, the City Council handed the NYPD new tools to support its efforts. We passed legislation to give police officers the bandwidth to determine whether or not a “quality of life” offense should be enforced with a “criminal” or “civil” summons. Historically police officers have been required to give a “criminal” summons for possessing an open container of alcohol, and exclusively gave criminal summonses for all park offenses, even those as minor as climbing a tree or walking on newly seeded lawn in a park. Same with public urination and littering — uniformly enforced as “criminal” offenses.

The consequences of “criminal” enforcement are significant. If found guilty for some of these offenses, one has a permanent criminal record including. for all parks offenses. For young people, a criminal record can have an impact on college financial aid and job opportunities. If you neglect to show up for criminal court, the system automatically puts a warrant out for your arrest. A second “quality of life” offense automatically results in arrest and at least a night in police custody.

Every year at least 100,000 New Yorkers have a warrant out for their arrest solely for these summonses. The consequence of giving the police the opportunity to determine whether to use criminal or civil summonses will mean that likely more than 50,000 fewer New Yorkers will have an outstanding warrant for their arrest because they violated a “quality of life” law. It will also mean that our criminal courts will be less clogged and our police officers less burdened with detaining these low-level nonviolent offenders, so they and judges can focus on the cases that need criminal attention. Getting a ticket for public urination or climbing a tree in a park belongs in the civil courts.

This is common sense reform that I believe will lead to more effective enforcement of quality of life issues, remove disproportionate consequences for many and still maintain the tools the city needs to maintain quality of life.

Helen Rosenthal represents District 6 on the New York City Council