Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg apparently thought he would reap some favorable publicity when he decided to release a memo he wrote to members of his staff detailing major changes in what he was willing to prosecute, and to what degree.
Based on the negative response, which started with police-union leaders but quickly spread to include Police Commissioner Keechant Sewell, questions have arisen as to Mr. Bragg's judgment, and whether his landslide victory in the November election after a comfortable margin in the Democratic primary convinced him he could turn the traditional role of a prosecutor on its ear.
His immediate reaction when criticism greeted his plans now that he's in office was that he had never concealed his intentions while running for the job, so why was anybody huffing and puffing about his putting this agenda into place?
But he captured the Democratic nomination, which essentially assured him of winning the general election, with only about 85,000 votes, in a borough of roughly two million people. And the changes he plans would likely have an impact on the criminal-justice system in all five boroughs.
Part of Mr. Bragg's memo suggests he believes part of his role is to act as an advocate for those who commit criminal acts but are more in need of mental help than incarceration, or whose life circumstances are sufficiently fragile that locking them up for any period of time could do more harm than those people might cause if they were released without bail.
Arguments are frequently made along those lines—by Legal Aid lawyers, by those speaking up on behalf of society's less-fortunate, and activists seeking to lessen the burdens of poverty and homelessness. While DAs past and present have sometimes let such matters affect their decision-making in individual cases, they haven't regarded them as guiding principles.
And the main reason for that is that DAs are in their jobs to pursue justice on behalf of the citizens of the county in which they were elected. More often than not, this involves prosecuting those accused of serious criminal activity and protecting the victims law-abiding citizens by doing so. Manhattan may be the most-liberal of the boroughs, but it has not turned into a utopian oasis in which restorative justice can be the first response to cases less egregious than murder.
Yet Mr. Bragg seems determined, based on his memo, not to lock up those who use guns in commission of crimes if they don't actually fire them or—and we're making an assumption here— pistol-whip those they are ripping off. This notion disregards the reality that guns are so often a major accessory in robberies because fear of what they can do if fired makes ordinary people quiver and comply rather than risk their lives.
His determination not to prosecute cases of resisting arrest unless there is a felony attached to that offense invites those with violent tendencies to indulge them against cops.
And his decision not to seek sentences of more than 20 years in prison, even in the most-extreme cases, such as murder of a police officer, is, frankly, outrageously arrogant. It's a signal to those unwilling to be bound by societal norms that they can commit heinous deeds at age 25 and still walk out of prison while relatively young.
He may have shrugged off protests by police-union leaders that his plan was a prescription for mayhem in the streets and the worsening of the crime problems of the past two years. But Commissioner Sewell's statement that "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" should penetrate Mr. Bragg's posturing.
In his memo, he calls for limiting the trials of young people in adult courts by noting, "Research shows that brain development continues until up to age 25." Some of his ideas suggest that despite spending much of his adult life in the criminal-justice system, that's where his own brain's development stopped. 
The job Mr. Bragg holds is too important to public safety to be acting on ideological conceits about justice that endanger those he, too, is sworn to protect. 

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