Making New York less safe: Bills in Albany would make it harder to protect law-abiding

By: William Bratton – as seen in the NY Daily News here


The New York State Legislature, the same people who brought you the criminal justice “reform” package that ensured almost no one arrested would ever go to jail while awaiting trial, has a new set of proposed laws. They look curiously like a strategy to make our streets even more dangerous. Rather than solve crimes and not send people to jail, why not make crimes even harder to solve in the first place?


Here are some of the ideas that could easily pass in Albany, tying the hands of the NYPD and other police departments across the state and putting communities, especially Black and Latino New Yorkers, at risk.


They want to ban “no-knock warrants” even when there is probable cause to believe that guns or drugs are present in a location and a judge agrees and signs a warrant that authorizes a no-knock entry. The proposed law says that the first thing police should do is knock, and then wait 30 seconds for a person to come open the door. When you are a hardened criminal, 30 seconds to pull out a pistol or assault weapon, or to flush narcotics down the toilet, is a lifetime. For a police officer, it can be and has been, the end of a lifetime. The law also calls for all warrants to happen between 8 a.m. and 6 p.m., because I guess if they have to pull a gun or get rid of evidence, it would be better if they have already had their coffee.


Another bill would ban police from questioning any juvenile in custody, even if the suspect agrees to it and even if their parents agree and give consent, unless the young person has first consulted with an attorney. The NYPD already has a complex set of requirements when questioning juvenile suspects including requirements that their parents are called and given access. Juveniles and parents are advised of their rights and interviews are videotaped in their entirety. Today, there are hundreds of juvenile offenders who have multiple arrests for violent crimes including robbery, assault and shootings. Not allowing police to take a statement from a willing suspect seems to be a gift to everyone but the crime victim.


That’s not all. Our state legislators want to outlaw New York City’s DNA database and force the destruction of thousands of DNA samples connected to criminal investigations that could be the key piece of evidence in a murder case, a sexual assault or rape. They also want to get rid of the criminal records of convicted felons seven years after they leave state prison. Aiming to address the problem that some people have trouble getting work because of a public record of their conviction, the “Clean Slate” law would require that their records get sealed, which includes the destruction of mug shots and fingerprints. Why would we want to throw away the fingerprints and mugshots that could be key to solving future crimes?


If that isn’t enough, another proposal wants to bar the NYPD from using all biometric records to solve crimes. That would mean throwing out a facial recognition tool that has provided the initial leads that resulted in identifying thousands of violent predators.

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Many of these proposals have been floating around Albany for years. They were bad ideas when New York City had the lowest crime rate on record and now, with shootings doubled and murders climbing, the idea of pushing these laws has gone from misguided to just plain irresponsible and dangerous.


As the commissioner of the Boston Police Department, chief of the Los Angeles Police Department, and New York’s police commissioner twice, I was privileged to lead the teams that reduced crime to record lows and built new relationships with communities hit hardest by crime. It shouldn’t be lost on anyone in New York that the vast majority of the victims of our shootings and murders, like 10-year-old Justin Wallace, are people of color.


We need to stop this carnage, not make it worse. I’ve been around long enough to see what happens when politicians take the last tragic incident or viral video from some other city and legislate by press release. We can’t continue to allow politicians to take legislation drafted by organizations that represent criminal defense lawyers and blindly pass it without any meaningful feedback from judges, prosecutors or police. We need to be mindful and we need to strike a balance that includes not just reform, which is often essential, but also the obligation to reduce crime and violence for the people we — yes, the politicians and police — both swore to serve. That is what democracy looks like.


Bratton is is co-author with Peter Knobler of “The Profession: A Memoir of Community, Race, and the Arc of Policing in America.”

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