PHOTO: Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito. Courtesy of William Alatriste/NY City Council
By Michael V. Cusenza
The City Council on Wednesday approved the comprehensive—and polarizing—Criminal Justice Reform Act: a package of eight bills aimed at curtailing penalties for low-level, non-violent offenses.
The vote on the legislation comes after a hearing in January, and over a year after Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito laid out her case for amending the city criminal justice system in her 2015 State of the City address.
The CJRA creates “more proportional penalties” for certain crimes, according to the Council. These include having an open container of alcohol in public, parks rules, littering, public urination, and unreasonable noise (one of the most cited quality of life issues in Queens.) These offenses will continue to be illegal, the Council pointed out; however, the CRJA will establish that the preferred venue for pursuing penalties for these offenses will be in civil, rather than criminal court.
The eight bills of the Criminal Justice Reform Act are:
Introduction 1057-A: would declare that criminal enforcement of these low-level, non-violent offenses should be used in only limited circumstances, and that in the absence of such circumstances, civil enforcement should be utilized.
Int. 1059-A: would establish that the Office of Administrative Tribunals and Hearings offer a community service option in lieu of a monetary penalty to those who violate the covered offenses.
Int. 1056-A: would establish that most parks rules are violations, rather than misdemeanors.
Int. 1058-A: would establish a civil penalty scheme for non-commercial unreasonable noise of $75-$150 for a first offense; $150-$250 for a second offense; and $350-$500 for a third offense.
Int. 1067-A: would add a civil penalty of $25 for having an open container of alcohol in public (a criminal penalty of $25 currently exists).
Int. 1070-A: would establish a civil penalty scheme for personal littering and public urination of $75 for a first offense; $250-$350 for a second offense within 12 months; and $350-$450 for a third offense within 12 months. It would also add spitting to the littering law and repeal an unconstitutional provision relating to distribution of advertising materials.
Int. 639-B: would require the NYPD to track and report quarterly on the number of criminal and civil summonses issued and the criteria applied, based on NYPD guidelines, in making the determination to issue a civil or criminal summons.
Int. 662-A: would require the NYPD to track and report quarterly on the issuance of desk appearance tickets, disaggregated by offense, race, gender, age and the borough, patrol precinct, housing service area and transit district in which the DAT was issued.
Most of the CJRA bills would go into effect nine months to a year from now.
Mark-Viverito called the approval of the act “a huge win” for reform.
“For too long, our criminal justice system was broken and it was time we took action,” she said. “The Criminal Justice Reform Act will prevent tens of thousands of people from getting a criminal record for low-level, non-violent offenses and over its lifetime it is going to change trajectories for countless New Yorkers.”
City Councilman Eric Ulrich (R-Ozone Park) noted on Wednesday evening that he voted against the majority of the bills.
“Every New Yorker deserves a good quality of life. These bills will only diminish our ability to keep our city clean and safe,” he said. “Issuing summonses in lieu of enforcing the law is like giving a slap on the wrist to offenders and also a slap in the face to the taxpaying, law abiding citizens of the Big Apple.”