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Facing political pressure, Gov. Hochul defends her stance on bail reform

 Governor Kathy Hochul surveys a cache of illegal weapons seized by state police on August 4, 2022.
Karen DeWitt
Governor Kathy Hochul surveys a cache of illegal weapons seized by state police on August 4, 2022.

New York Governor Kathy Hochul on Thursday defended her opposition to make more changes to the state’s bail reform laws. The Democrat, facing political pressure to hold a special session, says revisions to the laws that took effect in early May need to have a chance to work first.

Hochul spoke at the State Police forensic center in Albany about progress in what she says is another tool to fight crime. She stood amid a display of 30 guns uncovered in an investigation into an illegal weapons trafficking ring across upstate New York. The weapons include six assault rifles, seven high-capacity magazines, twelve ghost gun pistols and assorted ghost guns parts. State Police say multiple people were arrested, but aren’t releasing any more details right now.

The Gun Trafficking Interdiction Unit, implemented by Hochul nearly a year ago and funded by $2.5 million in the state budget, spent months on the case. The governor says since the unit started operating, nearly 800 illegal guns have been confiscated, and countless lives have been saved.

“We’ve seen a 104% increase in seizures by state police just since last year,” Hochul said.

As the governor faces an election to hold a full term in office, crime has become a major campaign issue.

Her opponent, Republican Long Island Congressman Lee Zeldin, has called for a full repeal of the state’s 2019 bail reform laws, which ended most forms of cash bail.

New York City Mayor Eric Adams, a Democrat, has called for a special session of the Legislature to pass a law that would allow judges to consider the potential “dangerousness” of a defendant when deciding whether to hold them before trial.

“Under the current law, judges are not allowed to consider whether someone is a threat to public safety when deciding whether or not to hold them in custody,” Adams said. “This is a big mistake.”

Zeldin says he agrees with Adams.

“I strongly support the mayor’s call for a special session,” Zeldin said. “Common ground should be found. Republicans and Democrats working together to make the streets of New York safe again.”

Hochul says the bail reform laws were revised in the spring, and they need to be given a chance to work before more changes are made.

In April, Hochul and the Democratic-led Legislature widened the criteria that judges could use to decide whether to set bail, including the severity of the offense and whether the accused had been convicted of a similar crime in the past. The law also reauthorized bail for hate crimes, gun-related crimes and domestic violence offenses.

The governor, for the second day in a row, criticized the state’s judges, saying they are not following the new laws, and suggesting that they need remedial courses in how to use the new criteria to decide whether or not to set bail in a case. Hochul says she’s already talking to the state Office of Court Administration to set up a seminar.

“If judges aren’t using the broad discretion that they have because they believe that their hands are tied, I want to help assure them and educate them that changes were made,” the governor said. “It literally went into effect May 9th.”

New York Police Department officials, at a news conference with Mayor Adams, highlighted several repeat offenders who were released without bail and then committed new crimes. Hochul says in each one of those cases, a judge could have set bail but didn’t choose to.

The governor says she is “in sync” with the mayor, who has endorsed her election bid, and that they both want the same goal of safer streets. Adams agrees, and says he and Hochul are “aligned.”

But Hochul says blaming the crime wave on bail reform is too simplistic.

“That is a political slogan, that’s all it is. It’s ignoring the complexity of what we are dealing with,” said Hochul, who added that there’s been a nationwide crime surge, including in states that did not reform their bail laws.

Hochul says the pandemic changed something in the human condition and people “went to a dark place” that, among other things, led to an increase in crime. But the governor says she believes that steps like breaking up illegal gun trafficking rings can help reverse that.

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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