New York officials, from lawmakers in the state Legislature to Gov. Kathy Hochul and her five-month-old administration, are being urged to tackle rising concerns over street violence and crime.
Prescriptions of how to do so in a deeply polarizing time have varied after years of criminal justice law changes advocates have shown little desire to roll back or alter.
Into the debate entered New York City Mayor Eric Adams, who released a package of provisions on Monday to combat crime, a move that comes in the wake of the shooting of two NYPD officers last week, one fatally.
Adams' plan includes empowering judges to consider whether a person is too dangerous to remain on the streets, a long-sought change that was cheered by Democrats like state Sen. Todd Kaminsky, a Democrat from Long Island who lost a bid for Nassau County district attorney last year after the issue was hammered by Republicans.
"I have long believed, and as a prosecutor in the federal criminal justice system practiced this way, that allowing judges to take a defendant’s dangerousness into account when determining bail is logical and appropriate," Kaminsky said. "New York is one of only a few states that inexplicably do not permit this and it is time for change. I am confident we can craft a system that adds a dangerousness standard but that is also fair and transparent. I look forward to working with both the Mayor and my colleagues in Albany to make these essential changes.”
A push to tackle crime is taken place against the backdrop of an election year, with all statewide elected officials up for election as well as all 213 members of the Legislature.
Democratic leadership in the state Senate and Assembly, however, were less enthusiastic about re-opening the bail laws and once again making changes to measures that largely ended cash bail requirements for many offenses in the state.
Advocates for criminal justice law changes have pinpointed requiring cash to make bail as unduly hurting poorer defendants and people of color, and has led to overcrowding at jails.
“The loss of life is a tragedy, and we mourn with all New Yorkers who have lost their lives on New York’s streets and behind bars," said Marvin Mayfield, the director of organizing at the Center for Community Alternatives. "Our communities need and deserve true solutions to community safety and well-being, including investments in community-based violence prevention programs, affordable and permanent supportive housing, and access to jobs and economic opportunity."
And the debate has featured a Rashomon-style interpretation of statistics released by the state court system, which has shown about 3% of people who are released have committed a violent crime. Supporters of keeping the bail laws as they are say the statistics show the law is working as intended; opponents say the numbers show crimes are being committed by people who would otherwise be in jail.
Gov. Kathy Hochul, for now, has sought to remain above the fray in the debate, choosing instead to call for stronger efforts to combat gun violence and particularly illegal firearms that flow into the state.
A multi-government and multi-state conference on the issue is set to be held on Wednesday.
"I'm tripling the amount of money going for law enforcement initiatives, as well as tripling the amount of money that had been on the table before for violence disruptor programs," Hochul told reporters on Monday, noting her $216 billion budget plan is "staffing up law enforcement, we fund the police."