Petty Arrests Take Toll On Lives of New Yorkers, Tremendous Cost To The City

Steven Banks, Attorney-in-Charge of The Legal Aid Society, and Joel Schmidt, a Staff Attorney in the Queens office of the Criminal Practice, appeared on WCBS, Channel 2 News, on Tuesday night in a segment on over policing where New Yorkers are arrested for minor things, spend the night in jail and are released the next day. Banks told WCBS that jail time for these petty crimes is on the rise. "It seems like they’re hitting an ant with a sledgehammer," Banks said. "It’s a tremendous cost to the system, and a tremendous individual cost to New Yorkers." Schmidt called the arrest of one of his clients for taking up two seats on a subway outrageous. The construction worker fell asleep on the subway at 1 a.m. and slipped onto a second seat.

CBS 2 News at 11
WCBS (CBS) New York
February 26th, 2013

Kristine Johnson, Co-Anchor:  Tonight, a CBS 2 News Investigation into New Yorkers being thrown in jail for late night strolls, dancing, and violations of subway etiquette.

Maurice DuBois, Co-Anchor:  These minor offenses are taking a big toll on people’s lives, prompting us to ask: do the serious consequences really fit the petty crimes? 

Darren Jones: I was approached by three plain clothes police officers.

Maurice DuBois:  Fifty-year old Darren Jones was heading home from work when police arrested him and threw him in jail for 16 hours. His crime: walking between subway cars.

Darren Jones:  I was totally shocked.

Seymour Hewitt:  I’m thirty-eight years old; I’ve never been arrested, ever, in my life.

Maurice DuBois:  Until now. Seymour Hewitt realized he was about to take the wrong train, so he reentered the subway at the correct platform, but didn’t pay the second time. For that, he did 12 hours behind bars.

Seymour Hewitt:  I’m heartbroken.

Maurice DuBois:  Police arrested fifty-five year old Caroline Stern and her fifty-four year old boyfriend George Hess on a subway platform for something they never thought would land them in jail for 23 hours.

Caroline Stern:  We were dancing. That’s it.

Maurice DuBois:  They all admit they did break the law, but no one expected to be locked up. Crimes like these typically result in a summons—not jail time.

Darren Jones:  I didn’t belong there.

Seymour Hewitt:  It’s disgusting; you’re locked up, you’re an animal.

Steven Banks, the Legal Aid Society:  We see every day instances of over policing, where individuals are arrested, spend the night in jail, and then are released the next day for very, very minor things.

Maurice DuBois:  Legal Aid Society attorney Steven Banks says jail time for these so-called quality of life crimes is on the rise.

Steven Banks:  It seems like they’re hitting an ant with a sledgehammer.

Maurice DuBois:  Take the case of twenty-two year old Samantha Zucker. Police arrested her for allegedly being in Riverside Park after closing—a violation that cost her 36 hours in jail and was later dismissed.

Steven Banks:  It’s a tremendous cost to the system, and a tremendous individual cost to New Yorkers.

Joel Schmidt, Attorney:  It’s outrageous.

Maurice DuBois:  Attorney Joel Schmidt recently defended a twenty-one year old construction worker locked up for taking two seats on the subway at one in the morning. Schmidt got the case dismissed, but says petty arrests like this do nothing but clog the courts.

Joel Schmidt:  It’s hard for me to say what motivates the police department.

Jon Shane, Professor:  It’s not as crazy as everybody thinks.

Maurice DuBois:  Jon Shane, professor of criminal justice at John Jay College, says it may seem random, but police have good reason to make these arrests.

Jon Shane:  Police are enforcing the law in an effort to keep all of the riders safe. What tends to happen is one dance creates onlookers, which creates a bigger crowd, which creates the prospect of somebody being bumped and knocked down.

Maurice DuBois:  The NYPD says this arrest strategy is a major factor in the city’s dramatic decline in crime. But at a recent news conference, Commissioner Ray Kelly admitted they don’t arrest on every misdemeanor.

Commissioner Ray Kelly, NYPD:  Well, it depends on what the violation is.

Maurice DuBois:  Still, people who have been caught up in the system say police are casting too wide a net, catching everyday New Yorkers in the process.

Seymour Hewitt:  I’m sad, I’m violated, I’m exploited.

Darren Jones:  I’m a productive member of society, and I wasn’t treated as such.

Maurice DuBois:  Most of these cases are ultimately dismissed as long as the defendants stay out of trouble for six months.