New York City prosecutors have declined dozens of criminal cases in which arrests were made since the coronavirus struck, citing court closures and public health concerns associated with incarceration, the Wall Street Journal reports. Police records show that district attorneys have declined to prosecute more than 500 such cases since Mayor Bill de Blasio declared a state of emergency on March 12. In Brooklyn, District Attorney Eric Gonzalez has declined to prosecute 391 arrests for nonviolent misdemeanor charges and deferred 65 cases of more serious charges for later prosecution. Police officials said some defendants are released back into the public to commit additional crimes. Several people charged with felony burglaries of businesses in Brooklyn had their cases deferred and were subsequently arrested again on similar charges.
NYPD Chief of Crime Control Strategies Michael LiPetri said such repeat offenders should be held accountable for their crimes. “For those recidivists to then be freed without consequences is unacceptable and puts New Yorkers at risk,” he said. LiPetri believes recidivist criminals may be behind the rise of commercial burglaries since the emergency measures—including the closure of nonessential businesses—were enacted. Commercial burglaries spiked 75 percent in the first two weeks after the state of emergency was announced. Closed restaurants, markets and retail establishments are frequently the target of such burglaries. Police made 563 burglary arrests from March 12 through April 20, an increase of nearly four percent from 542 such arrests during the same time last year. Gonzalez said his office began to decline prosecuting misdemeanor cases in March, partly to limit the spread of the coronavirus in city jails, where transmission rates have exceeded those experienced by the city’s general population.