Next week the City Council will introduce a series of bills permitting police officers to keep many low-level "Broken Windows" crimes like drinking in public, littering, and public urination out of the criminal court system.
The Times reports that the bills will not decriminalize these offenses, though the city and state had previously been bouncing that idea around. Instead, officers will have the opportunity to choose whether the summons they write up ends up in criminal court or is handled as a civil offense.
The NYPD already has the discretion to use the civil option for offenses like riding a bike on the sidewalk or turnstile jumping—now, more crimes will be open to civil court, though the city says they'll have to figure out how to expand the administrative court system to handle the new summonses.
“Where appropriate, the civil option is probably going to be the go-to option,” an NYPD spokesman said. “But you have to have the criminal option available."
The crimes that will be addressed are all covered by the city's administrative code; they include littering, public urination, public consumption of alcohol, breaking certain park rules, and making excessive noise.
To reiterate, the city is not making it legal for people to pee in public. There was a lot of controversy about this over the summer, when the Post started attacking City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito after she starting pushing for the decriminalization of minor offenses. The NYPD also initially bashed the potential policy change, arguing that decriminalizing quality-of-life offenses would make it more difficult for them to enforce the law.
But these so-called "Broken Windows" offenses made up a major chunk of the criminal summonses cops issued last year, and they were predominantly issued in minority neighborhoods. And though "Broken Windows" policing has been a major part of Commissioner Bill Bratton's policing strategy, studies [pdf] have shown that the arrest practice overwhelmingly affects low-income minorities, the homeless, and the mentally ill, and a number of City Council members have responded with legislation in kind.
This time around, the NYPD supports the current set of bills, which are set to be introduced in the Council on Monday.