Daily News: New Effort to End Turnstile-Jumping Crime Starting in September
MONDAY, JULY 03, 2017

The Daily News spoke to Tina Luongo about Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance’s new policy to stop prosecuting the majority of fare evasion arrests.

Daily News
New Effort to End Turnstile-Jumping Crime Starting in September
By Shayna Jacobs
June 30, 2017

A backlog of minor crimes will shrink in Manhattan through a new effort to eliminate turnstile jumping cases that "bog down" the system starting in September, the DA announced Friday.

First-time "theft of services" transit offenders are expected to be issued a civil summons, which will be handled through the MTA typically by paying a fine, DA Cyrus Vance Jr. said.

Recidivists and others who are ineligible for a summons will get a desk appearance ticket and the chance to complete a diversion program prior to coming to court.

Completion of the program would serve as their ticket to preemptive dismissal of the case.

Currently, the arraignment courts carry a heavy docket of offenders who slide through open subway gates and hop over turnstiles instead of paying $2.75 fares, often within view of undercover transit cops.

Despite the relatively low value of a MetroCard swipe, "theft of services" under state law is a "class A" misdemeanor that carries up to a year behind bars.

Offenders who have an open warrant for any reason will still be arrested and brought before a judge in Manhattan Criminal Court.

Vance said almost 10,000 people were charged with the crime in Manhattan last year.

The criminal prosecution of these low-level, non-violent offenses should not be a part of a reformed 21st-century justice system. Absent a demonstrated public safety risk, criminally prosecuting New Yorkers accused of these offenses does not make us safer," Vance said in a statement.

"Today, by committing to divert these misdemeanor cases out of Criminal Court in Manhattan, we will further eliminate unnecessary incarceration, and reduce the risks of deportation, loss of housing, and loss of employment that often accompany a criminal prosecution."

A spokesman for Acting Brooklyn DA Eric Gonzalez said a similar initiative was underway there.

"I have been fully committed to reducing arrests and criminal prosecutions of low-level offenses by supporting the issuance of civil summonses and using diversion and other approaches that reduce our reliance on incarceration," Gonzalez said in a statement.

Community Service Society of New York President David Jones, also an MTA board member, commended the move.

"This policy change is a strong statement in favor of common sense and decency," Jones said.

He added that fare beating is a crime "of poverty" and that more can be done for deterrence.

"Some of it is just stupidity of youth but some of it is somebody trying to get to school or finding they don't have any money," he said.

Mayor de Blasio, speaking to reporters on Friday, said that repeat offenders will not be ignored.

"Sometimes a fare evasion stop leads to something much bigger, someone with an outstanding warrant for something serious or God forbid someone with an illegal weapon," he said.

"I'm sure there's plenty of situations where it's someone doing it for the first time, those folks we want to give a summons and we want them to understand not to do it again, but there are other situations that are much more serious," the mayor added.

Tina Luongo, who heads the city's criminal Legal Aid Society practice, said all boroughs should adopt the policy especially in light of recent immigration arrests in city courthouses.

"Each year, thousands of Legal Aid clients' lives are upended from these arrests in the outer boroughs, and now ICE exploits those convictions to put individuals in removal proceedings," she said.

"Ones' chances of a second shot should not depend on the borough you are arrested in," she added.

This article originally appeared in NY Daily News.