NEW YORK CITY — Penalties for drinking alcohol and urinating in public could be reduced under a package of bills being discussed by the city council next week.
Under the Criminal Justice Reform Act of 2016, drinking alcohol in public, littering, public urination, unreasonable noise and violating parks rules would largely be considered civil offenses punishable with summonses, according to a city council memo on the plan.
The legislation would remove the possibility of a permanent criminal record for urinating in public and violating park rules. Instead, police would create public guidelines about when those violations are civil or criminal offenses.
The city has used the "broken windows" theory of policing for years which holds that smaller offenses are predictors for larger crimes. Both Mayor Bill de Blasio and Police Commissioner Bill Bratton have remained strong defenders of the strategy in the face of criticism that the theory unjustly targets minorities and the poor.
A study by the Police Reform Organizing Project found that Park Slope, which has 24 percent black and Latino residents, received only eight summonses for riding a bicycle on the sidewalk in 2014. That's compared to Bedford Stuyvesant — 79 percent black and Latino residents — which received 2,050 of the same type of summonses.
Despite Bratton and de Blasio's defense of "broken windows" policing, there has been a drop in the number of arrests for small amounts of marijuana after the mayor instituted a change in city policy.
Still there are 1.2 million active warrants from minor crimes that put pressure on the criminal justice system, according to the City Council.
“The Criminal Justice Reform Act of 2016 is a bold step towards reforming a system which for too long has disproportionately punished low-level, non-violent offenses," City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito said in a statement.
"We can reduce the long-term consequences of over-criminalization while ensuring that the penalties fit the offense and that police have the tools they need to keep us safe," she added.
Mark-Viverito first introduced the idea of the changes last February in her first State of the City address.
NYPD chief spokesman Stephen Davis said the department has "worked very closely" with the City Council and the mayor's office to come up with the new proposal.
"Our direct input has been considered instrumental and well-received by all involved in this important process. We look forward to the establishment of reforms that positively affect the goals of fairness and public safety," Davis said.