New York State's top judge says the NYPD should start treating summonses for open container and biking on the sidewalk as civil, not criminal offenses.

Chief Judge of the State of New York Jonathan Lippman told the audience at a Citizens Crime Commission breakfast this morning that he believes it is time for "serious thinking" about whether the NYPD should continue to issue millions of criminal summonses each year for minor infractions.

Judge Lippman's remarks come a week after the City Council Speaker and a member of the City Council's Criminal Justice Committee announced their intention to amend the City code to make summonses for 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, fall under civil court jurisdiction.

The Chief Judge's support is notable because he is currently assisting the de Blasio administration in its "Justice Reboot" initiative to depopulate Rikers Island and streamline the criminal summons process.

A press release from The Mayor's Office on Justice Reboot invoked Judge Lippman's name 13 times in supporting the plan, with the mayor himself applauding the jurist for being a "forward-thinking partner."

Mayor de Blasio opposes the plan to turn the most popular quality-of-life criminal summonses into civil offenses, citing NYPD Commissioner Bill Bratton's problems with the legislation.

“The Council’s proposals are certainly worthy of discussion, but I want to emphasize my vision of quality-of-life policing and my vision related to ‘Broken Windows’ strategy is the same as Commissioner Bratton’s," the mayor said last week.

The NYPD says that the policy change would hurt their ability to enforce the law because citizens don't have to provide ID for civil violations. Judge Lippman reportedly said this morning that this problem is "solvable."

A John Jay College report [PDF] released at today's event examined criminal summonses issued from 2003 through 2013, and found that while the number of overall summonses issued each day has declined from a high of 1,600 in 2006 to 1,200 in 2013, that decrease is largely due to fewer summonses being issued to teenagers for disorderly conduct.

Of the nearly 4.5 million criminal summonses handed out in 2013, the most common were public consumption of alcohol, disorderly conduct, public urination, park offenses, and riding a bike on the sidewalk.

The report detailed "a system that labors mightily but inefficiently to process a staggering number of cases from enforcement to adjudication." Sixty-five percent of all summonses issued over that decade were either dismissed (41%) or were found to be defective or legally insufficient (24%).

“There is significant variability in the dispositions of these charges,” Professor Preeti Chauhan, one of the report's authors, said in a release. 

“In 2013, almost half of public urination charges resulted in a guilty plea whereas almost half of riding your bicycle on the sidewalk charges resulted in a determination of legally insufficient prior to arraignment."

The report concluded that the criminal summons process that currently exists in New York City is "a high-volume police activity that results in very little formal criminal justice sanction." In 2013, one in five summonses resulted in a guilty plea or a finding of guilt, and in those cases, 99% resulted in a fine.

The Mayor's Office has not responded to a request for comment on Judge Lippman's remarks.