A new NYPD policy went into effect on Monday. Mayor Bill de Blasio, Commissioner Bill Bratton, and Manhattan D.A. Cyrus Vance have announced that those who are accused of certain minor offenses will receive summonses, and will not be arrested. There is, of course, some opposition to the move. Without belaboring the point, the gist of that opposition is the claim that receiving a summons, as opposed to being handcuffed and hauled into jail, will lead to an increase in these low-level crimes. We think this argument unfounded, and also misses the rationale behind the policy change.
The starting point, of course, is that the United States is the world leader, by far, when it comes to the number of people in prison. That phenomenon has been the result, at least in part, of legislation that increases the length of prison terms for many crimes, and criminalizes and calls for jail time for behavior such as possession of small amounts of marijuana and other drugs.
Because of this problem, there have been calls for reduced sentences, probation, and alternative sentencing, such as drug and alcohol rehabilitation. We reported on the issue in our blog in December of last year (Call for Reduced Sentences on Low-Level Drug Crimes).
Since reducing arrests for minor offenses seems a reasonable approach to the problem, we wonder about the logic of those who predict doom as a result of the new policy going into effect. There are a couple of things that should be apparent:
- First, the policy is unlikely to unleash a crime wave. The offenses we’re talking about include drinking in public, public urination, littering, riding between subway cars, and others.
- Second, these are crimes that do not pose a threat to public safety.
- Third, the elimination of an arrest will avoid an unnecessary expenditure of an officer’s time processing the suspect, with the attendant paperwork, and concentrate resources on preventing and prosecuting serious crimes.
- And finally, if the argument of the opponents to the policy is true, it would support the arrest people for a violation of any law, including, for example, minor traffic offenses.
All in all, we’d say this is definitely a step in the right direction.
George Vomvolakis Law Offices
275 Madison Avenue
New York, NY 10016