NYC Debates Decriminalizing Low-Level Public Violations


A New York City Council plan to decriminalize low-level violations like public urination or drinking alcohol in public from an open container has prompted intense debate among state and city officials about how these so-called quality-of-life offenses should be treated by police and the courts, reports the Wall Street Journal. A path to a possible compromise appeared to be emerging as the state's top judge voiced support for moving some of these offenses to civil court. Police Commissioner William Bratton, who has voiced strong reservations about decriminalizing any offenses, said he believes there is a “real opportunity for all of us to find common ground on this issue.”

The back-and-forth unfolded as John Jay College of Criminal Justice issued a report that showed how police and the courts have struggled to address low-level offenses and handle the half-million criminal summonses issued each year for such acts. Despite an overall decline in citywide summonses in recent years, the cases continue to flood the courts, often without clear resolution, and overwhelmingly affect young men. Chief Judge Jonathan Lippman, speaking at an event where the report was released, said there is good reason for lawmakers to decriminalize a number of offenses, such as public consumption of alcohol, riding a bike on a sidewalk and being in a park after dark. He said these offenses are “more benign.” Lippman appeared to disagree with some city lawmakers who had also been discussing decriminalizing public urination and turnstile jumping.

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