CITY HALL — Mayor Bill de Blasio signed a package of legislation Monday reducing the penalties for minor violations such as urinating and drinking in public.
Under the Criminal Justice Reform Act of 2016, offenses such as littering, unreasonable noise and violating parks rules would remain illegal but become largely civil offenses punishable with summonses.
The NYPD would retain discretion over when to issue a civil or criminal summonses.
The legislation would reduce a court system overburdened with 1.5 million outstanding warrants for violations that largely end with fines or just one day in jail or time served and which largely affect blacks, Latinos and the indigent.
"For too long one small wrongdoing has come with a huge cost for so many individual New Yorkers. It's taken a toll on New Yorkers' lives and futures, limiting and in many cases eliminating their opportunities," de Blasio said. "A minor non-violent act of poor judgment should not determine one's destiny."
The laws will also downgrade infractions of city park rules and public urination to violations from misdemeanors, meaning that violators will no longer receive a criminal record for these offenses.
There will also now be a community service option in lieu of a monetary penalty for these infractions.
The NYPD will have to issue guidelines of when a criminal or civil summonses is issued. The NYPD also has to report quarterly on the number of civil and criminal summonses and desk appearance tickets issued, broken down by race, gender and police precinct where issued.
City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito proposed the changes during her 2015 State of the City address.
Mark-Viverito said the changes bring "more justice" to a criminal justice system that is "broken" and costly to all New Yorkers.
"It was taxpaying New Yorkers who foot the bill for locking up individuals who didn't need to be locked up and it was our city who shouldered the cost of public assistance, homeless services and other support for New Yorkers who couldn't get a job or find a home after getting a criminal record for a low-level, non-violent offense," Mark-Viverito said.
The City Council estimates that 100,000 cases will be diverted from the criminal courts, 10,000 fewer people will have a criminal record for minor violations and 50,000 fewer warrants will be issued each year.
Vanessa Gibson, chairwoman of the City Council public safety committee, said the legislation does not threaten quality of life or public safety as some critics have claimed.
"Anything that was unlawful yesterday remains unlawful today," Gibson said.
Police Commissioner Bill Bratton was also present for the bill-signing. He called it a "win-win" for police and the public.
"A doctor, if he can cure your illness with an aspirin, he's not going to bring you to a hospital," Bratton said. "Similarly, if I can cure a civil violation or a summonses short of arrest I'm going to deal with the problem that way rather than committing someone to Rikers."