District Attorneys from Manhattan, Brooklyn, Queens and the Bronx ceremoniously dismissed roughly 644,500 years-old summonses Wednesday morning, putting a dent in the more than 1.5 million open warrants city-wide.
Mostly issued for low-level or "quality-of-life" offenses like drinking in public, spitting on the sidewalk or public urination, these summonses factor large in the NYPD's "broken windows" approach to policing, and have a tendency to land New Yorkers—more often than not, men of color—in jail for failure to pay a small fine or appear in court.
"By asking the court to purge these old warrants, we are removing a hindrance to many people's lives," Bronx District Attorney Darcel Clark stated last month. "Those who committed minor offenses a decade ago or longer and have not been in trouble with the law pose no threat to public safety today. These warrants bog down the court system."
City Hall worked with the NYPD and DAs to come to today's agreement, according to a mayoral spokeswoman. The purge will not apply to individuals who have been arrested in the last ten years, or are the subject of an ongoing criminal investigation.
"We are all safer when our police officers are focused on preventing crime and arresting dangerous criminals instead of processing the arrests of those who pose no threat to public safety," Mayor de Blasio stated.
In Manhattan, 240,472 summonses have been dismissed; 159,394 in the Bronx, 143,532 in Brooklyn, and 101,096 in Queens.
Today's purge has been anticipated since February, when the New York Times reported on conversations between the District Attorneys from all five boroughs. At the time, there was some debate over the threshold—summonses at least 20 years old, or 10 years old. "Vacating all summons warrants 10 years or older would achieve the goal of promoting fairness without compromising safety," Acting Brooklyn DA Eric Gonzalez argued at the time.
Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito reportedly supported a ten-year purge, which the DAs have since settled on, while City Hall initially declined to take a position.
The NYPD didn't immediately respond to our request for comment Wednesday, but the NY Times reported over the winter that brass were hesitant to purge warrants that have "sometimes proved helpful" in pinning down "dangerous suspects."
Staten Island DA Michael McMahon backed out of this month's joint effort, telling DNAInfo in a statement that vacating summonses "sends the wrong message."
"I believe that issuing blanket amnesty for these offenses is unfair to those citizens who responsibly appear in court and sends the wrong message about the importance of respecting our community and our laws," he added.
Open warrants "can hold disastrous and punitive consequences restricting access to public housing, student loans and other public programs," countered Tina Luongo, Attorney-In-Charge of the Criminal Practice at The Legal Aid Society.
"We encourage the Staten Island District Attorney to do right by his constituents and afford them the same justice," she added, calling today's announcement "long overdue."
New York immigration attorneys and advocates also say warrants are increasingly dangerous for non-citizens, as one of President Donald Trump's sweeping executive orders targets any non-citizen with an arrest on their record for deportation.
Last spring, the City Council signed legislation empowering the NYPD to steer certain low-level offenses to civil court, rather than criminal court. Bill sponsors estimated that the new laws would prevent about 10,000 New Yorkers per year from opening a criminal record. But the law is discretionary.
Both Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance and Gonzalez also recently pledged to prosecute fewer New Yorkers for turnstile jumping. Starting this fall, Vance will encourage the NYPD to issue civil summonses for the offense. Those who are arrested will have the option to enter a diversion program.
"Part of the issue for me is the politicians are so frightened of these issues, and at the same time, more and more eager to appear to be reformist," said Bob Gangi, a long-shot mayoral candidate and head of the Police Reform Organizing Project.
Gangi called for a full purge of open warrants. "There are still over half-a-million New Yorkers subject to arrest because they have an outstanding warrant," he said. "And that is a waste of criminal justice resources that leads to the needless criminalization of low income black and brown people."