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Mayor and Bratton Expect No-Arrest Pilot Program to Go Citywide

By Jeff Mays | March 3, 2016 10:00am
 Mayor Bill de Blasio and Police Commissioner Bill Bratton announce that most people caught with 25 grams or fewer of marijuana will be issued a summons rather than be arrested during a press conference at One Police Blaza Monday afternoon, Nov. 10, 2014. Now the pair want a program that keeps low-level offenders from arrest to spread city-wide.
Mayor Bill de Blasio and Police Commissioner Bill Bratton announce that most people caught with 25 grams or fewer of marijuana will be issued a summons rather than be arrested during a press conference at One Police Blaza Monday afternoon, Nov. 10, 2014. Now the pair want a program that keeps low-level offenders from arrest to spread city-wide.
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DNAinfo/Ben Fractenberg

DOWNTOWN BROOKLYN — Mayor Bill de Blasio and Police Commissioner Bill Bratton said they expect that a Manhattan pilot program that eliminates the risk of arrest for low-level offenses like public urination to expand across the city.

De Blasio, speaking with Bratton at a Brooklyn press conference, said he expected the effort "will be a success and will ultimately spread to all five boroughs."

Bratton also said he sees the program going citywide.

"If the initiative is successful as we evaluate it going forward we will certainly be interested in taking it to the other boroughs," Bratton said.

Under Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance Jr.'s plan, NYPD officers will no longer automatically arrest people for low-level violations.

Under current policy, a person with an outstanding felony warrant caught committing a minor offense in Manhattan, such as drinking in public, would be arrested for the felony warrant and the low-level violation. This requires judges to spend time hearing the cases involving the new infraction as well as the older charge, and the police officer also has to appear in court.

Now, with the pilot program, a person with an outstanding felony warrant caught committing a minor offense will only face arrest for the felony. The low-level charge will be dealt with as a summons by a judge on the spot.

Vance expects the change to eliminate 10,000 arrests per year and help clear the Manhattan courts' summons backlog.

The mayor and Bratton said they see the effort as part of their strategy of addressing the application of the "broken windows" theory of policing, where small crimes are targeted to prevent larger ones.

De Blasio ran on a platform of reducing the police practice of stop-and-frisk, which a federal judge ruled was violating the civil rights of mostly black and Latino men.

Given the record-low crime levels in the city, Bratton and the mayor said adjusting the frequency that broken windows policing is used was appropriate.

"Broken windows is here to stay," Bratton said. "It's the amount that we constantly adjust to meet the existing circumstances."

The number of total arrests, stop-and-frisks and low-level arrests for marijuana have all declined during the first two years of the de Blasio administration.

But there has been concern that the quality-of-life and the sense of safety that has drawn hundreds of thousands of new residents to the city will suffer if enforcement is relaxed on low-level offenses.

Bratton said that won't happen.

"This is not a get-out-of-jail-free card," he said. "It is an expectation that the public will respond to this and if they don't, appropriately, there will be a warrant issued and they will be arrested."

Police also want to collect emails and cellphone numbers from people issued summonses so the NYPD can notify them about their pending court date, the commissioner added.

Brooklyn District Attorney Kenneth Thompson praised the changes, but said the issue needs to be addressed further. Thompson launched a program in September to help people rid themselves of warrants for low-level offenses.

There are currently 1.1 million New Yorkers who have outstanding warrants for low-level offenses. They are currently subject to arrest in every borough except Manhattan.

"I have said repeatedly that we must deal head-on with our broken summons court system and the 1.1 million open arrest warrants for everyday New Yorkers who committed minor, low-level offenses," Thompson said.