PROP response to the Criminal Justice Reform Act of 2016

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No Fundamental Change, No Equal Justice.

On January 25, 2016, the City Council is introducing the Criminal Justice Reform Act of 2016 which will allow NYPD officers to hand out civil penalties instead of criminal summonses for low-level infractions including being caught with an open container, littering, urinating in public, making unreasonable noise, or violating park rules. The act also removes permanent criminal records for public urination and park violations. Such infractions have been a mainstay of Broken Windows policing in NYC.

While it is a positive step for the City Council to even consider these reforms, reflecting a shifting political landscape on policing issues, the proposed bills fail to provide the fundamental changes needed to eliminate the NYPD’s discriminatory and abusive practices. Activities like being in the park after dark, holding an open alcohol container, making loud noises, and littering are by themselves not “crimes” and should not trigger any kind of police response. These proposals, in effect, cement and entrench, in the name of criminal justice reform, the police as our society’s harsh arbiter of appropriate behavior.

PROP makes three additional and related points:

  • Police officers already have the authority/discretion to issue warnings regarding these activities, but due to the NYPD’s quota policies, officers often choose to arrest or ticket New Yorkers – because under those policies, officers only gain notches on their belts for punitive interactions.
  • To the extent that our city responds at all, it is more sensible and fair that public agencies outside the criminal justice system or non-profit neighborhood groups be responsible.
  • Under the Council’s proposals, the NYPD will maintain its intrusive and oppressive presence in the city’s low-income communities of color.

Also, the proposed legislation does nothing about the blatant racial bias that marks current policing practices in issuing summonses. In an April 15, 2015 article on the NYPD’s summons practices, for example, the New York Daily News reported that 81% of the 7.3 million New Yorkers ticketed between 2001 and 2013 were African-American or Hispanic and that only 22% of the cases resulted in a guilty finding.

We police reformers will not support proposed modifications in policing policies that do not address the racism that effectively makes a mockery of any claim our city can make that it adheres to the noble principle of “equal justice for all”.

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