The NYPD will begin issuing civil summonses for certain quality of life crimes, including open containers and public urination today, as the City Council's Criminal Justice Reform Act officially goes into effect.
The package of bills, which were championed by City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito, directs officers to issue civil instead of criminal summonses when they bust people for littering, public urination, public consumption of alcohol, breaking certain park rules, and making excessive noise. The Times reports that the package of bills, which was passed last year by the Council and signed by the mayor, went into effect after the NYPD finalized their rules for issuing the civil summonses one year after the bills were made law.
Under the terms of a civil summons, a person doesn't have to go to court to answer for something like public drinking. Instead, they appear at an administrative hearing run by the Office of Administrative Trials and Hearings. The reform efforts don't decriminalize the quality of life crimes themselves, which would still be classified as misdemeanors.
Under the department's new guidelines, officers will be directed to issue civil summonses for the quality of life offenses, with a few exceptions, according to the Times. If the person committing an offense has two or more felony arrests in the last two years, has received at least three unanswered civil summonses in eight years, or is on parole or probation, a police officer can still issue a criminal summons.
Council Member Rory Lancman, who's been an advocate of reforming Broken Windows policing, called the new rules "a great step forward, though I would like to have seen fewer exceptions to them, since they would primarily affect communities of color," in a statement given to Gothamist.
Lancman also said that the Council was "going to digest the results of the new rules over the course of the next three to six months. The next thing we might need to do is also look at the fine schedule, to make sure the fines are not excessive. So after a short period of time, we'll be able to see what's working and what needs improvement. I wouldn't be surprised if in January we'll reassess and see what needs to be tinkered with."
However, critics of Broken Windows policing have still been critical of the bills. As Brooklyn College professor and police reform advocate Alex Vitale previously pointed out, fines can become a huge financial burden for low-income New Yorkers.
"Civil summonsing continues the philosophy of high amounts of interaction with our communities and the NYPD," the Coalition to End Broken Windows Policing wrote in a statement. "Any interaction with police has always been, and remains, a potentially deadly encounter for Black and Brown New Yorkers... The overwhelming majority of Broken Windows enforcement is levied against people of color, street vendors, subway performers, our youth and our LGBTQ and immigrant communities. These patrol guide changes (which didn't prevent cops from putting Eric Garner in a prohibited chokehold in 2014) also includes intentionally discriminatory language excluding people on parole or probation, or those with recent felony convictions from receiving civil summonses."
While the reforms had received support from then-Commissioner Bill Bratton when they were first passed, at least some members of the NYPD were willing to "fume" to the Post about the apocalyptic consequences they think the move to civil summonses will have.
"It’s bulls-t!” a "high-ranking police source," told the tabloid yesterday. “They shouldn’t be doing that. It’s just going to make crime go up again." Another source incorrectly told the Post that the reforms decriminalize the offenses, and that quality of life offenders will now be "emboldened" to "do whatever they want."
According to Lancman though, this will not result in a subway-esque torrent of pee on the streets of New York.
"People are still going to be held accountable for their misconduct, but we're not going to be running people through the criminal justice system for a low-level, non-violent quality of life offenses," Lancman told Gothamist. "This is no different from getting a ticket for not feeding the meter or putting your garbage out the day before it's supposed to go out for collection."