Bail Reform: Law Enforcement Officials Voice Concerns Over New York’s Criminal Justice Changes

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NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) — Law enforcement officials are voicing their concerns over New York state’s criminal justice reforms.

Starting Jan. 1, the state will eliminate cash bail and pretrial detention for most low-level offenses. Meaning, some accused criminals will be released on their signature.

The changes are meant, in part, to combat over-crowded jails.

“Almost all misdemeanors — except for some sex crimes and domestic violence cases — nonviolent felonies and two violent felonies are no longer eligible for money bail,” John Jay College Director of the Data Collaborative for Justice Dr. Preeti Chauhan told CBSN New York earlier this month.

WATCH: Law Enforcement Officials Voice Concerns Over Bail Reform

Keith Olson, the president of the Yonkers police union, said the bail reform is well-intentioned and some in pretrial detention should be released, but he still has concerns.

“Having more criminals, specifically recidivists — people who commit crimes on a regular basis — out on the streets, available to commit more crimes,” Olson said.

In New York City, defendants will be rewarded with perks, such as New York Mets tickets, movie passes and gifts cards, for showing up to court.

“In a world where we want speedier trials and we want the justice system to work, if small incentives are part of what actually makes it work, then that’s a smart policy,” Mayor Bill de Blasio said earlier this month.

Others argue the bail law will prevent poor people from languishing in jail for low-level crimes while their cases work through the system, adding the approach will also combat overcrowded jails.

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Police Commissioner James O’Neill, on the other hand, has expressed his reservations.

“We have to make sure there are consequences for criminal behavior,” he said. “Come Jan. 1, we’re a resilient organization, we’ll adapt. But I have real concerns.”

Before the bail reform law takes effect, nearly 900 city residents in jail could be released starting in mid-December.

Another reform in Albany dramatically accelerates the process and timeline for prosecutors to turn over evidence and other information to the defense.

Richmond County District Attorney Michael McMahon, Acting Queens DA John Ryan and members of the Police Benevolent Association and Detectives’ Endowment Association spoke out against the changes during a news conference on Thursday morning, CBS2’s Jenna DeAngelis reported.

“Manslaughter and criminally negligent homicide, burglary, drug sales on school grounds, anyone who looks at these 400 charges can see there are crimes that an average person would consider violent,” McMahon said.

“Just a few days ago, a defendant was arrested on a commercial burglary. It was his 44th arrest. He has 25 misdemeanor convictions, five felony convictions and 14 failures to appear in court. He also convictions in New Jersey and Pennsylvania. Bail was set, but if his case is not disposed of he will walk out of Rikers on Jan. 1. The point is, you may think maybe he should walk out, but under the law, judge has no choice,” Ryan said.

Criminal defense attorney Howard Greenberg said bail reform is a “double-edged sword,” and only “time will tell” how well it works.

“It’s great because almost anybody charged with a crime will be released without bail. They won’t have to jump through hoops to raise money in order to get released,” Greenberg said. “On the other hand, that’s terrible because criminal charges that anyone trying to be fair would contemplate that should result in bail being set to guarantee somebody’s return is not going to happen.

“The purpose of bail is to guarantee somebody’s return to court. I think a lot of folks who get charged with very serious crimes that no longer have bail, will no longer return to court,” Greenberg added.

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