This week, City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito came out strongly in favor of decriminalizing minor offenses. Police Commissioner Bratton was unsurprisingly against any changes to his Broken Window policy, saying at a news conference Friday that, "Under no circumstances will I as police commissioner support anything that weakens the ability of my officers to police and keep this city safe—all areas of the city safe." Mark-Viverito has now doubled down on her vow to fight him on this issue.
"We have a situation right now where we have low-level, nonviolent offenses that are being treated in a court of law,” she said a day after Bratton's comments, according to the News. "We are unwavering, those of us (who) really believe our criminal justice systems needs to be more fair and balanced."
Currently, the seven offenses included in the proposal—having an open container of alcohol, biking on the sidewalk, public urination, being in a park after hours, failing to obey a park sign, littering, and making unreasonable noise—are all violations that fall under criminal court jurisdiction. If you fail to pay a small fine or don't show up in court to contest the charges, a judge can issue a warrant for your arrest. Even if you pay the fine, you're pleading guilty to a criminal offense, a blemish on your record.
Mark-Viverito’s proposal would amend the City's code so that all those offenses are civil. Fines would still be handed out by the NYPD, but no arrest warrants would be issued, and these minor offenses would no longer trigger criminal court appearances and the record that comes with it. (Mark-Viverito previously came out in support of legalizing marijuana as well.)
On Friday, Bratton took a defensive stance, noting that the proposed changes "on first blush appear to be a significant attempt to limit the ability of police officers in this city to do their job. Anything that interferes with the ability of my officers to perform their jobs safely and to keep the citizens of this city safe, I have concerns with."
The NYPD’s deputy commissioner for legal matters, Lawrence Byrne, argued to Capital NY that the proposed changes would limit officers' ability to demand a person’s identification: "There is no such right under New York State law for civil violations," Byrne told them. "So part of the issue with enforcing these civilly is…the suspect who is committing the offense does not have any legal obligation to identify himself or herself. [He] can simply say nothing or tell the officer ‘My name is Donald Duck and my address is 1 Disney Place,’ and that becomes the basis to issue a civil summons, which will never be enforceable by any civil court."
Bratton remains adamant that there's nothing wrong with the current Broken Windows policing policies despite the fact that: a) The seven offenses under the proposal account for 42% (2.7 million) of all criminal summonses issued by the NYPD every year; b) Close to half of all criminal summonses are dismissed (38% of all misdemeanor charges are also dismissed); and c) Half of all New Yorkers who receive criminal summonses don't show up in court, leading to excess arrests.
"I think the impression that’s been presented is that there are countless people being carted off to jail inappropriately," Bratton said. "In fact, you have to work very hard to go to jail in this city." Bratton may believe that, but the numbers paint a different picture.