Alvin Bragg

‘SOUNDING ALARMS’: Two days into his tenure, Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg announced that his office would not be requesting that defendants accused of some low-level offenses be held in jail pre-trial. While suspected violent offenders and those accused of some financial crimes would be kept behind bars, police unions railed against the new directives.

NYPD Commissioner Keechant Sewell joined police unions in pouncing on new Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg’s resolution to prosecute fewer low-level offenses, arguing that prescription would lead to more crime. 

Mr. Bragg’s 6-page memo, distributed to staff Jan. 3, directs prosecutors to stop prosecutions of nonpayment of subway or bus fares, prostitution, common traffic violations, some resisting-arrest charges and other minor offenses.

Disturbing Message to Cops

In an email sent to officers Jan. 7, Ms. Sewell said she was disturbed by numerous aspects of the new DA’s guidelines, and particularly his ban on prosecuting resisting-arrest charges unless they were accompanied by a felony charge. 

“The message this policy sends to police officers and other public servants providing vital services in this city is that, in Manhattan, there is an unwillingness to protect those who are carrying out their duties,” the new Commissioner wrote in a nearly 1,600-word message to her cops.

Although a proponent of reform, Ms. Sewell wrote, "I am concerned about sweeping edicts that seem to remove discretion, not just from police officers, but also from Assistant District Attorneys regarding what crimes to prosecute and how to charge them."

Her reading of the new policies led her to believe they could compromise the safety of police and residents, and also justice for victims, she said. 

'Need Frank Discussions'

She said she had made some of her concerns known to Mr. Bragg and hoped the two could have “frank and productive discussions to try and reach more common ground.”

In a response the next day, Mr. Bragg said he would seek to “clear up some misunderstandings” in conversations, presumably with Commissioner Sewell, that he said had already begun. 

He also sought to reassure residents, repeating that “safety is paramount for our office.”

“I've prosecuted cases involving assaulting law enforcement, and if you punch a police officer, you will be prosecuted for a felony. All must be held accountable for their actions,” he said in his statement.

Patrick J. Lynch, the Police Benevolent Association’s president, said the union shared the Commissioner’s apprehension and also sought to speak with both her and DA Bragg. 

“We agree with Commissioner Sewell’s concern that these changes remove discretion and flexibility from both police officers and assistant district attorneys,” he said in a Jan. 8 statement. “During this public safety crisis, we should be adding tools to our toolbox, not removing them. To do otherwise puts police officers and our communities at greater risk.”

Emboldening Criminals?

In a letter to members earlier in the week, the president of the Sergeants Benevolent Association, Vincent J. Vallelong, said the DA’s memo is “sounding alarms far and wide,” adding that the Manhattan DA's road-map was at odds with Mayor Adams’s tough-on-crime stances. 

“DA Bragg is not exercising any semblance of moral or balanced judgment. He has opened the floodgates for crime to rise even more than it already has,” the Sergeants’ union head wrote. “Once this all sinks in and criminals know they can commit crimes with little or no consequences, nothing will stop them.”  

Mr. Vallelong said that “a historical perspective” revealed that perpetrators of low-level offenses eventually commit more-serious crimes. “How can the crime-fighting initiatives espoused by Mayor Adams and Police Commissioner Sewell be successful if DA Bragg is delinquent in prosecuting the offenders?” he asked.

The DA's memo contained numerous footnotes citing academic studies and other data backing his claim, as he wrote in a lengthy note prefacing it, “that reserving incarceration for matters involving significant harm will make us safer.”

What Will Warrant Lock-Up

People would continue to be held pre-trial on serious charges. Those include homicides or incidents that led to the death of a victim; violent felonies during which a weapon caused serious injury; sex offenses such as rape, forcible touching, genital mutilation and other sexual crimes; domestic-violence felonies; and public corruption and other economic crimes.

“These policy changes not only will, in and of themselves, make us safer; they also will free up prosecutorial resources to focus on violent crime,” Mr. Bragg said in a statement accompanying the memo.

Those claims did little to assuage the NYPD’s union leaders. 

“Police officers don’t want to be sent out to enforce laws that the district attorneys won’t prosecute,” the PBA's Mr. Lynch said in an earlier statement.

Similar to Other Efforts


Paul DiGiacomo, the head of the Detectives’ Endowment Association, said the new DA’s policies would result in “more crime and increased shootings.” If carried out, Mr. Bragg’s program would subvert police officers’ ability to make consequential arrests, he said. “In Bragg’s Manhattan, you can resist arrest, deal drugs, obstruct arrests, and even carry a gun and get away with it,” Mr. DiGiacomo said. 

Mr. Bragg, a former Chief Deputy with the state Attorney General’s Office and a Federal prosecutor under then-U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara, outlined his new directives to staff two days after being installed as just the third Manhattan DA in nearly 50 years. 

The former co-director of the Racial Justice Project at New York Law School where he was a Visiting Professor of Law until recently, ran a moderately progressive campaign during which he advocated for much of what he outlined in his memo. That document also outlined a “restorative justice” road-map by pushing for alternatives to incarceration, reductions in pretrial jail time and additional support for people just released. 

Similar prosecutorial models have taken shape in Boston, Chicago, Detroit, Philadelphia, San Francisco and St. Louis following the elections of progressive DAs in those and other cities. And also in Brooklyn, where Eric Gonzalez unveiled a strategy, “Justice2020,” de-emphasising punitive measures, particularly incarceration, nearly two years ago. 

'Tough When Needed'

But aside from pushback from police, assistant prosecutors in those cities have also charged that reformist agendas threatened public welfare, with Philadelphia and San Francisco suffering significant rises in violent crime.

Mr. Bragg and his staff took office amid rising gun violence, including homicides and shootings, which while they have mostly plagued The Bronx, Queens and Brooklyn have also increased in Manhattan.

He said his office would be announcing “new initiatives and policies,” including on guns and sex and hate crimes, in the coming weeks.

“We will be tough when we need to be, but we will not be seeking to destroy lives through unnecessary incarceration,” Mr. Bragg wrote in a Jan. 5 Twitter thread. That meant, he continued, that armed robberies and assaults on police officers will be prosecuted. 

“But,” he continued, “if you are houseless with an addiction problem and you steal toothpaste and some bread, you will be diverted for treatment to help break the cycle of recidivism.”


(3) comments




This is not a good idea. This will lead to more crime.


History repeating itself

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