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NY Mayors Join Chorus Of Concerns Over 2020 Criminal Justice Reforms

Freeport Mayor Robert Kennedy speaking at the NYCOM meeting in Albany
Karen DeWitt
Freeport Mayor Robert Kennedy speaking at the NYCOM meeting in Albany

Mayors across New York are the latest to express concerns about the bail reform and other criminal justice changes that take effect in January. The mayors say they don’t have the resources or the money to properly carry out the new laws.

Beginning in January, cash bail will end for all misdemeanors and most nonviolent felony crimes in New York. There will also be changes to what’s known as the discovery laws, and will now require prosecutors to disclose within 15 days all of the evidence against people accused of crimes. 

The New York Conference of Mayors is joining the state’s DA’s and sheriffs’ associations in voicing worries about the logistics of carrying out the new laws. 

Binghamton Mayor Richard David, who is the group’s first vice president, says his city does not have enough people to comply with the changes.  

“We do not currently have the staffing to meet the timeline that’s in place right now,” David said.  

Robert Kennedy, mayor of Freeport, on Long Island, and president of the group, says it’s going to cost his village of over 43,000 people $2.2 million each year to comply with the 15-day requirement for the average 1,100 arrests that take place in Freeport each year. He says he’ll need to add staff and upgrade antiquated technology to get all of the evidence to the prosecutors in time.  

“Every radio transmission recording from the officers and transmissions from all 911 calls would be included,” Kennedy said.  “Every body camera from every police officer will have to be downloaded from the cloud. If you have 12 or 15 officers at the scene, every one of those body cameras are going to have to be downloaded for discovery." 

He says the increased staff, overtime hours for police and software updates will add an estimated 5.7% spending increase to his budget, in a state where there is a 2% per year property tax cap.    

Polls show that most New Yorkers support the reforms. Advocates who worked for passage of the law, including Nicole Triplett with the New York Civil Liberties Union, says the municipalities and law enforcement groups are not taking into consideration other costs that the current laws bring. The present discovery laws have resulted in thousands of low-income people housed in local jails, often for months at a time, while they awaited court action for nonviolent crime charges. Triplett says many who are jailed because they cannot meet bail, lose their jobs and sometimes lose custody of their children because they are unable to support them.

“The costs that people have historically born from this system has been hugely expensive,” said Triplett. “I don’t think the costs that these folks are facing should be considered in a vacuum.” 

Triplett says the savings from having fewer pretrial defendants in jail might help fund staff and other resources to help comply with the new discovery law timelines. 

Triplett says the changes to New York’s laws are within the normal range of statutes in other states. She says Texas has successfully implemented similar discovery reforms. New Jersey eliminated much of its cash bail system in 2017, without a major increase in recidivism or failures to appear in court. 

“By passing, it we’re not out of the norm,” Triplett said. 

She says when the changes happen in January, New York will go from one of the worst states for discovery disclosure to one of the best.  

Binghamton Mayor David says despite what he says are the hardships involved, he intends to comply with the new laws.

Karen DeWitt is Capitol Bureau chief for New York State Public Radio, a network of public radio stations in New York state. She has covered state government and politics for the network since 1990.
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