The NYPD will no longer make arrests in Manhattan for low-level offenses such as public consumption of alcohol or public urination, and DA Cy Vance's office will no longer prosecute such cases: instead, individuals found committing such low-level offenses will receive summonses. The new policy will go into effect on March 7th, and is expected to keep approximately 10,000 cases from making it to Manhattan Criminal Court.
Under current NYPD policy, officers must make an arrest if someone committing a low-level offense has an open summons; the DA's office notes that over 1.1 million New Yorkers currently have open summons for failing to appear in court. This new policy would require that an officer bring someone with an open warrant to one of the Arraignment Parts of the Manhattan Criminal Courts Building to face a judge both on the summons matter and the outstanding warrant. Similarly, if an offender can't produce an ID, they'll be taken to a precinct where they can wait for someone to bring them their photo ID. In neither circumstance will an arrest be made.
Police Reform Organizing Project Director Robert Gangi said that while this is a significant change, it ultimately affects a relatively small number of arrests—in 2014, police made 221,851 misdemeanor arrests.
"If in Manhattan that practice stops, that is a good thing, and that is a positive step toward curtailing one of the current abusive NYPD practices," Gangi said. "Now, highly problematic is that apparently this change—relatively modest change—will only take place in Manhattan...this will result in a significant discrepancy in practice, where if you're caught for a second time being in the park after dark in Brooklyn, the police can arrest you."
In a statement, NYPD Commissioner Bill Bratton said that this policy change "will save valuable police resources. Police officers can now quickly return a person to court on a warrant and, at the same time, adjudicate their current summonsable offense, all without jeopardizing the public safety." But Gangi questioned why drinking from an open container or sitting in a park after dark should be considered a threat to public safety at all.
"None of these people jeopardize public safety," he said. "If you're arresting people for having a foot up on the subway seat...not only is it wasteful, it also sort of reaches to a kind of absurdity when you arrest someone for having a foot up on a subway seat at 2:30 a.m. instead of just telling them to put their feet down. So I'm not quite sure why he's reeling in the public safety point when it's irrelevant to these particular kinds of infractions."
It's not yet clear whether other borough DA's offices will follow suit, but currently, this policy only applies to Manhattan. Meanwhile, a package of bills introduced to the City Council in January would reduce such low-level offenses to civil offenses, though police reform activists don't think those bills go far enough, either.