NYC City Council Speaker Wants Cops to Stop Arresting People for Petty BS
April 21, 2015 | By John Surico
Between 2001 and 2013, according to an analysis by the New York Daily News, nearly 2.7 million New Yorkers were issued criminal summonses for publicly consuming alcohol, urinating in public, riding a bicycle on the sidewalk, being in a park after dark, failing to obey a park sign, littering, or making unreasonable noise. Hundreds of thousands of them had to appear in court for these seven minor offenses, waiting on a line that can stretch the length of a city block just to stand in front of a judge, plead guilty, and pay a fine. Yes, your honor, I pissed outside.
But if City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito has her way, this dreary, daily routine of the New York criminal justice system may be a thing of the past. On Monday, the Daily News and other local outlets reported her office is busy scripting a proposal that would decriminalize those seven offenses, which according to the News, have made up roughly 42 percent of all summonses issued between 2001 and 2013. A City Council spokesperson said the category of offenses would essentially shift from criminal to civil—an idea put forward in the Speaker's State of the City address in February.
People who are caught drinking outside or pissing in an inappropriate place are currently allowed to mail in a guilty plea and a fine, but under Mark-Viverito's plan, you'll also be able to pay fines for five other minor offenses that way. Also, failure to pay won't result in a warrant being issued for your arrest; rather, you'd be hit with a default monetary judgment. That's a big deal, given that there are reportedly 510,000 open arrest warrants related to these crimes. (Jumping a subway turnstile, which the Council Speaker spokesperson said the office is also looking into, led to over 25,000 arrests last year, making it one of the city's leading causes of jail time.)The Speaker's proposal caps off what has been a week's worth of reform news from New York, as Mayor Bill de Blasio recently announced that he is seeking a citywide summons reform package too. But while his proposal is focused on fixing what happens inside the courthouse—the way you're notified of your court date, how long it takes to resolve a case, etc.—the Speaker's proposal goes beyond that by seeking to cut down on the number of arrests, which disproportionately affect minorities.