Newly-installed Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg walked back some of his policy changes, after four weeks of relentless tabloid coverage calling him “soft-on-crime” as well as pressure from police and Governor Kathy Hochul.
In a memo sent out on Friday morning, Bragg, who campaigned and was elected on promises of criminal justice reform, modified some of his stances on key issues including gun possession and robbery prosecutions.
“This Office will continue to make case decisions that serve safety, accountability, fairness, and justice,” Bragg said writing to members of his office this week. “You were hired for your keen judgment, and I want you to use that judgment – and experience – in every case.”
The new guidance supersedes parts of the original memo, issued during his first week in office and clarifies other parts of it, his office said. The original memo included a list of low-level criminal charges Bragg’s office would no longer prosecute — adding that prosecutors should seek prison time as a last resort and stating a commitment to reducing pre-trial detention.
One policy Bragg definitively walked back was how certain robbery charges were prosecuted.
Under the original memo, Bragg had instructed prosecutors to charge certain cases involving a weapon as a misdemeanor petit larceny, “if the force or threat of force consists of displaying a dangerous instrument or similar behavior but does not create a genuine risk of physical harm.”
These types of cases often involve homeless individuals stealing household items and later being arrested and found with a screwdriver or pocket knife, public defenders explained. Under former Manhattan DA Cy Vance, such cases were pursued as felony robbery cases where defendants face a minimum of five years in prison, but Bragg had promised to downgrade them.
He reverted back to the office’s original position Friday in the latest memo saying, “commercial robbery at knifepoint, or by other weapon that creates a risk of physical harm, will be charged as a felony.”
The memo also walked back a promise to halt prosecutions of “resisting arrest,” which had drawn ire from police unions.
“Violence against police officers will not be tolerated,” Bragg’s Friday memo stated.
Emily Tuttle, a spokesperson for the DA clarified certain resisting arrest charges would be allowed in cases where people were charged with other misdemeanors and felony cases — not just felony cases, as had been previously stated.
Bragg also clarified his stance on gun prosecutions saying, “the default in gun cases is a felony prosecution,” though a spokesperson clarified that the office wouldn’t always seek prison time for those charges, as the office had previously promised. Bragg had not said he would not prosecute gun possession as a felony in his original memo, though critics had accused him of being lenient on gun crimes more generally.
Bragg had been under fire for a month following a rocky rollout of his initial memo released in early January. He admitted he could have presented the policies more clearly and had been on the defensive for weeks, attempting to explain his approach amid a barrage of criticism.
The initial policy changes drew immediate ire from tabloids, police unions, candidates for governor and eventually, Hochul, who has the power to remove Bragg from office. The pressure on Bragg escalated after the killings of police officers Jason Rivera and Wilbert Mora. Detective Jason Rivera’s widow even called out Bragg’s policies at the officer’s funeral before thousands of mourners.