Albany County District Attorney David Soares has seen enough — alarmed by a rise in shootings and other crimes that have plagued the state's capital city.
"In my city, in Albany County, it is the African American and Hispanic community that is bearing the burden of all of this violence," he said in an interivew Friday.
Soares blames the criminal justice law changes that have largely ended cash bail for many criminal charges and having people under the age of 18 no longer treated as adults in the justice system.
The measures are among a package of changes made in recent years that have become a flashpoint over the debate surrounding public safety in New York. Critics have tied the changes to the rise in crime; supporters of the measures contend opponents are stoking fear, and wrongly blaming laws meant to help low-income people and people of color.
Still, crime has been a problem for Soares's jurisdiction and for many upstate communities, Soares said.
In the last week, there have been two deadly shootings in Albany, adding to 14 homicides this year and sustained levels of gun violence.
"It’s not because we have more people on the streets coming in and engaging in these drive-by shootings and serious assaults," he said. "It’s because the people engaged in this type of behavior continue to be apprehended and then benefit from the reforms that were passed."
Brooklyn public defender Olayemi Olurin disagrees, pointing to statistics showing more people their court dates.
"There is no link between bail reform and a rise in crime," she said. "That’s just not the truth. And the reality is the purpose of bail is ensure someone returns to court. It doesn’t have this public safety component."
New York lawmakers made the criminal justice changes in order to reduce the number of people in local jails following the suicide of teenager Kalief Browder at Rikers Island. A campaign to raise the age of criminal responsibility was conducted in part to separate younger people from older offenders and potentially help with diversion programs.
"The same people that we vilify as the criminals, those are also the victims of crimes," Olurin said. "It’s happening in these communities."
Olurin calls the efforts to raise concerns over public safety an effort to score political points.
"A lot of this is fear mongering in order to inflate police budgets and to do things that simply have no impact on one another," she said.
Lawmakers and Gov. Kathy Hochul earlier this year agreed to changes to New York's bail law, expand the circumstances in which bail is required, such as for gun charges and alleged repeat offenses.
But Soares, a Democrat first elected on a platform of ending harsh drug sentences, said lawmakers need to listen.
"My question to our leaders is what number is going to be the number that triggers you pulling the fire alarm" Soares said, "and walking back some of the policies that have been detrimental to young Black lives."