Minor offenses, like panhandling and staying after dark in parks, will no longer be treated as crimes but as civil offenses, in an attempt to “seek the goal of fairer punishment.”
Ever since Commissioner Bill Bratton took command of the New York Police Department in 2014, there has been too much focus on arresting people for minor crimes. Fortunately, the new regulations package by the New York City Council may soon change that.
The council has scheduled a hearing for the proposed laws on Jan. 25 which, if passed, will remove the possibility of jail time and permanent police records for individuals charged with violating park rules, public urination, public drinking, excessive noise and littering.
According to a fact sheet distributed by the council, low-level offenses have left the city with more than 1.2 million active warrants and have been disproportionately enforced against minorities.
“We know that the system has been really rigged against communities of color in particular,” said Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito, who has promoted reforms like this before and is the main sponsor of the bills. “So the question has always been, what can we do in this job to minimize unnecessary interaction with the criminal justice system, so that these young people can really fulfill their potential?”
The Criminal Justice Reform Act seeks to address two constant problems that have tormented the judicial process: thousands of low level offenders taking up court time and the outstanding warrants that are created when offenders fail to appear in court. Previously, Mayor Bill de Blasio has also tried to tackle the same problems by overhauling court proceedings to expedite cases and reduce the number of low level warrants.
The bill addresses only those offenses that are covered by the city’s administrative code, however, minor crimes covered under state law like possession of marijuana are exempt from it.
Trivial violations make up for a huge percentage of warrants, many of them written in racial or ethnic neighborhoods where the police also need to focus on more serious crimes.
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