NEW YORK CITY — The NYPD will no longer arrest people for minor infractions such as drinking alcohol in public, urinating or littering in Manhattan, city officials announced Tuesday.
Beginning March 7, police will have the discretion to determine if someone is a public safety risk before arresting them in a move the Manhattan District Attorney's Office — which will also no longer prosecute low-level offenses — said will remove 10,000 cases each year from the courts and help reduce its backlog.
The change will "help focus police and prosecutorial resources on those who commit serious crimes," Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance Jr. said in a statement.
"By giving cops the discretion to issue summonses instead of requiring them to make arrests, we ensure they do not spend hours processing cases as minor as littering, and we enable officers to get back to patrolling, investigating and keeping our neighborhoods safe," he added.
The new rules only apply in Manhattan.
Under current policy, a person with an outstanding felony warrant caught committing a minor offense such as drinking in public will be arrested for the felony warrant and the low-level violation.
Officers who catch someone with an outstanding warrant for even a minor offense committing a new low-level violation must arrest the individual for the old infraction as well. This requires judges to spend time hearing the new minor infraction as well as the old case, and the officer also has to appear in court.
With these changes, the person with an outstanding felony warrant caught committing a minor offense will only face arrest for the felony. The minor charge will be dealt with as a summons by a judge on the spot.
“This new policy in Manhattan will save valuable police resources. Police officers can now quickly return a person to court on a warrant and, at the same time, adjudicate their current summonsable offense, all without jeopardizing the public safety," NYPD Commissioner Bill Bratton said in a statement.
Additionally, those with outstanding summons warrants will be taken to the Manhattan arraignment court at 100 Centre St. where a judge will adjudicate. Under the current rules, the more than 1.1 million city residents who failed to appear for their summonses are open to arrest if they're caught committing another low-level offense.
Previously, those without identification who were caught committing a low-level offense were subject to arrest. Now, those individuals will be taken to a precinct where they will be given time to allow someone to bring them identification and they will be issued a summons for appearance at a later date.
"Today’s reforms allow our hardworking police officers to concentrate their efforts on the narrow group of individuals driving violent crime in New York City. This plan will also help safely prevent unnecessary jail time for low-level offenses," Mayor Bill de Blasio said in a statement.
The changes mark the next step in how the city handles minor offenses.
In November 2014, Bratton and de Blasio announced that people caught with small amounts of marijuana would get a ticket instead of being arrested in most cases.
In January, the City Council introduced the Criminal Justice Reform Act of 2016 under which drinking alcohol in public, littering, public urination, unreasonable noise and violating parks rules would largely be considered civil offenses punishable with summonses.
The bill would eliminate the possibility of permanent criminal records and cover hundreds of thousands of cases while keeping people out of police custody.
New York City has used the "broken windows" theory of policing for years, which holds that smaller offenses are predictors for larger crimes. Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito and other critics have called for an end to the prosecution of low-level offenses because they disproportionately impact poor and minority New Yorkers.
A spokesman for Mark-Viverito, Eric Koch, praised the changes to the city's "cumbersome and inefficient" method of handling low-level offenses but said "there is more work to be done."
"With our partners in the community, government and law enforcement, we can create a safe city where the penalties also fit the crime," Koch said.
The Manhattan DA's office said it will continue to prosecute penal code violations such as disorderly conduct, trespassing, loitering and harassment. Other violations such as driving without a license, possession of a knife longer than 4 inches and selling or possessing synthetic marijuana will also be prosecuted.