NYPD to Give More Warnings for Low-Level Crimes Instead of Arrests Is a Step in the Right Direction, Says LAS

Police Commission Bill Bratton's statement that the NYPD will give more warnings for low-level crimes instead of arrests was described as "a step in the right direction," by Legal Aid Chief Seymour James.

James, the Attorney-in-Chief, told New York 1 that "the big question is, How will this discretion be utilized? because there certainly is, amongst many police and amongst many individuals, the possibility that this discretion may not always be utilized in a fair way."

New York 1
Bratton: Police Department to Give More Warnings for Low-Level Offenses Instead of Arrests Every Time
By Dean Meminger
January 27, 2016

Police Commissioner Bill Bratton says cops will be encouraged to write warnings instead of tickets for certain offenses like riding a bicycle on a sidewalk, or being in a park after dark. It's part of a huge shift taking place in the city to move away from treating certain minor offenses as crimes. Criminal Justice reporter Dean Meminger reports.

Blacks and Latinos have long complained that they've been unfairly targeted for committing minor infractions. The Police Commissioner says it's time for a new approach in enforcing the law.

"To expand the discretion of my officers, to understand as we put them into neighborhoods — particularly neighborhoods of color — that they don't have to resort to arrest every time," Bratton said.

Speaking at the State Bar Association, Bratton began detailing how the police department will change its approach toward low-level offenses — what he called the newest step in New York City policing.

"The next phase of it is to effectively expand on that discretion for warning or admonition as a documented warning," Bratton said.

The written warnings will in some cases replace criminal summonses now issued for low-level offenses like being in a park after dark, or public urination.

Enforcing those laws has been a cornerstone Bratton's Broken Windows theory of policing, which believes that ignoring minor offenses leads to serious crime.

But critics say enforcement has disproportionately affected blacks and Latinos, clogged the criminal court system and needlessly shackled too many people with criminal records.

The City Council is adopting legislation to steer more of these cases away from the criminal court to civil court.

Bratton says that with crime down, he agrees with this shift, but the possibility of arrest remains on the table, which is why the police will keep records of the warnings.

"So we are able to build a paper trail, if you will, for future instances in which that warning does not suffice to change behavior," said the police commissioner.

The Legal Aid Society, which represents scores of people who have been arrested for low-level crimes, says the warning system is a step in the right direction.

"But the big question is, How will this discretion be utilized?" asked Seymour James of the Legal Aid Society.

"Because there certainly is, amongst many police and amongst many individuals, the possibility that that discretion may not be always utilized in a fair way," he continued.

Bratton says he has faith in his officers and their training, and that more warnings don't mean Broken Windows policing is out the door; it is just simply reduced.