Last April, City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito announced that she wanted to go easier on several low-level offenses in New York. Her list of bullshit crimes we shouldn’t be sweating too much included urinating in public, making unreasonable noise, and hanging out in a park after dark. It might seem trivial, but according to a Daily News analysis at the time, roughly 2.7 million New Yorkers had been hit up for these kinds of petty infractions between 2001 and 2013.

This is the pure, street-level incarnation of “broken windows” policing, a popular model of law enforcement where so-called “quality of life” offenses are aggressively enforced in order (theoretically) to prevent larger crimes. And the result-at least, in Manhattan-is a bizarro-world criminal court that is running full steam at 1 AM on a weeknight. And there are over 1 million open arrest warrants in NYC, mostly for minorities in low-income communities, for things like urinating in public.

Now it looks like that might finally change.

On Monday, the City Council will introduce the Criminal Justice Reform Act of 2016, a package of eight pre-considered bills created in tandem with the New York City Police Department (NYPD) and City Hall. Together, the law would set a preference for police officers to hand out civil penalties, rather than criminal summonses, for those who are caught with an open container, littering, urinating in public, making unreasonable noise, or violating park rules. In addition, the act would eliminate permanent criminal records for public urination and park violations.

To pull this off, the move would be conducted administratively, as several public agencies, like the Parks and Health departments, agree to no longer treat certain offenses as misdemeanors. Should a civil offense be handed out, the act would transfer its adjudication to the Office of Administrative Trial and Hearings (OATH) courts, which could offer community service to low-income individuals, instead of requiring them to pay a civil penalty. In later proceedings, this court would also be significantly expanded, in order to accommodate the onslaught of new cases.

By doing so, the new rules would attempt to lift some of the 42 percent of all NYC criminal summonses that involve this sort of low-level BS, thereby allowing the clogged system to focus on more serious stuff, like gun violence, or domestic abuse.

Source: Vice News Online, John Surico

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