Fearing what they call unintended consequences of a law that removes cash bail for most nonviolent offenses and shortens the time for prosecutors to share evidence with defendants, police in Rochester and beyond want the state to take a breath before enacting the new law.
“I am not suggesting we throw the entire legislation out the window, never to be seen again,” Rochester Police Department Chief La’Ron Singletary said Nov. 21 at a news conference attended by representatives from more than a dozen law enforcement agencies in Monroe and Finger Lakes counties.
Police chiefs and others in law enforcement say they were left out of discussions on criminal justice reform, which was passed as part of the state budget. Because they didn’t get a say and they claim the law as written could endanger the public, they want to delay the Jan. 1 implementation.
“Pushing pause on this reform allows for subject matter experts from the criminal justice system from all across New York state as well as victims advocates groups to provide input on the legislation,” Singletary said. “I don’t think any chief … will argue that we understand there are disparities in the criminal justice system. I support trying to fix those disparities, but not at the expense of creating unintended consequences.”
The local group did not present a list of items they want addressed, just that they want input.
The news conference at the Office of the Monroe County Sheriff was one of several across the state. The coordinated effort was designed to draw attention to what police agencies said are sweeping changes in what happens after a person is arrested – changes they contend they should have been consulted about.
Assemblyman Mark Johns, who attended the news conference, said afterward, “It’s kind of routine in Albany that some of the people that are experts in different fields are not consulted.”
Johns said the Assembly minority raised the issue “and (the bill) still wound up passing.”
Johns agreed with police chiefs and sheriffs who called for a delay. He said three or six months wasn’t unreasonable. “Let’s bring in the experts and let’s talk about it and let’s amend the bill. We do a lot of amending, so why don’t we amend this bill before we put it into effect.”
The legislature is in recess until January, but Johns said he would be prepared to go back to Albany over this. He said he hoped the simultaneous news conferences would get residents to contact their legislators. “Maybe through that, it will get to the governor and we will come back.”
Of immediate concern is the upcoming release of inmates who aren’t able to be held under the new law.
“Whether or not you believe someone should be in jail right now, the point is they are and they’re getting ready to get out,” Monroe County Undersheriff Korey Brown said. This mass release from area jails and the struggle these folks will face without a plan for their success … is a burden that is now on the communities and the jails and was not thought of when this bill went into effect … .”
He said about 200 inmates would be released from Monroe County jail under the new law.
Brown said that leaving incarceration is a major cause of homelessness. He also said that people who are addicted to drugs can receive treatment while in jail, which can help their recovery.
The new law strictly curtails cash bail and pretrial detention, which law enforcement said limits judicial discretion. The legislation also sets a 15-day deadline on discovery – the process of sharing information to allow for a fair trial.
Law enforcement said there are reasons to be concerned about both aspects.
Eliminating bail for misdemeanors and felonies classified as nonviolent by the legislation risks public safety, police said.
Gates Police Chief James VanBrederode, who spoke on behalf of the Monroe County and New York chiefs associations, said someone arrested one one of those charges will be released and given an appearance ticket. But that person could allegedly reoffend. He gave examples of driving while intoxicated, domestic violence and drug sales.
“How are we going to control the revolving door?” he said.
Prosecutors and police expressed concern that a tight deadline for discovery could cause some cases to be dismissed, which would mean no justice for victims. They said currently they share information as it becomes available. Monroe County First Assistant District Attorney Perry Duckles said that the time to trial for felonies has been reduced over the past few years.
Prosecutors in the region said the new discovery requirements are an unfunded mandate because they did not come with additional resources.