PHOTO: Mayor Bill de Blasio (r.) and Police Commissioner Bill Bratton on Monday enthusiastically shook hands after de Blasio signed the CJRA into law. Courtesy of Ed Reed/Mayoral Photography Office
By Michael V. Cusenza
Mayor Bill de Blasio on Monday signed the Criminal Justice Reform Act – a package of eight bills aimed at curtailing penalties for low-level, non-violent offenses – into law.
The City Council last month approved the comprehensive, and polarizing, legislation. According to the City, the bills further the administration’s goals of preserving public safety and building stronger and safer neighborhoods by reducing arrests and incarceration.
“For too long, our criminal justice system was broken and it was time we took action,” Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito said after the vote. “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.”
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 CJRA will establish that the preferred venue for pursuing penalties for these offenses will be in civil, rather than criminal court.
Opponents of the new law, including Councilman Eric Ulrich (R-Ozone Park), have decried it as an affront to quality of life.
“These bills will only diminish our ability to keep our city clean and safe,” he said last month. “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.”
De Blasio and Police Commissioner Bill Bratton disagree with Ulrich.
“A minor nonviolent act of poor judgment should not determine one’s destiny. Today, we are making sure that key low-level offenses are enforced appropriately – without sacrificing our city’s quality of life or our residents’ safety,” de Blasio said.
“We have worked closely with the Mayor, the Speaker and the Council on this legislation. The new legislation will allow the NYPD to use the full range of enforcement tools we currently have to address these offenses, while still providing us with the additional option to issue a civil summons instead of a criminal summons or arrest in appropriate circumstances,” Bratton added. “This legislation advances the many steps the NYPD has taken to implement precision policing in all communities throughout the City.”
Most of the CJRA bills would go into effect nine months to a year from now.
“The key to driving down crime, arrests and the unnecessary use of jail even further is matching the appropriate enforcement response to the situation,” said Elizabeth Glazer, director of the Mayor’s Office of Criminal Justice. “The Criminal Justice Reform Act will further allow the City to match the response to the unique facts of each case, reserving the most serious enforcement responses for the cases that present the greatest danger and enhancing fairness by allowing for a lighter touch where appropriate.”