1 (800) 246-0911 EnglishPortugueseSpanish
Nypd

Here’s what happens if you drink, spit or urinate in public; make too much noise; enter a park at night; or commit another low-level crime.

NEW YORK CITY HALL, NY — Police officers in NYC will now be allowed — and encouraged — to issue a simple fine and civil summons to New Yorkers committing one of a handful of common, low-level crimes, thanks to the city’s new Criminal Justice Reform Act.

For example, if you’re caught drinking in public, you’ll probably only have to pay a $25 fine and make your “court appearance” by phone.

The Act, comprised of a set of smaller bills, was passed by the City Council Wednesday, and is fully expected to be signed into law by Mayor Bill De Blasio.

The bills will go into effect next year, in 2017.

Here’s what they mean for you.

  • You won’t ever be jailed for more than one day for committing a low-level crime like public spitting, littering, committing a noise violation, public drinking, breaking park rules or urinating in public.
  • When enforcing these petty crimes, NYPD officers are now more likely to issue you a civil summons instead of a criminal one. This means that while you’ll still be assigned a court date, you can make your “appearance” by phone. And if you miss your court date, the government might go after you financially, but a warrant won’t be issued for your arrest. Most importantly: None of this will go on your criminal record.
  • If you’re caught drinking in public, and a police officer decides to go the civil route — as city law now encourages — you won’t be fined more than $25.
  • You’ll have the option of doing community service instead of paying fines for low-level crimes.
  • You’ll be able to review NYPD records on how many criminal and civil summonses the department has issued each quarter year — as well as the exact offenses the summonses were issued for, and the race, age and gender of those summoned.
  • You’ll also be able to review NYPD records on how many desk appearance tickets are issued each quarter year (in other words, whenever an offender is fingerprinted and booked). These records will likewise include the race, gender and age of those receiving a ticket, and the police precinct where the ticket was issued.

The legislation passed Wednesday was designed to keep minor lawbreakers out of the criminal justice system, according to its backers.

The bills will directly benefit low-income New Yorkers of color, supporters say, who are disproportionately burdened by the city’s “broken windows” approach to policing — an approach focused on the enforcement of low-level, non-violent offenses.

The Criminal Justice Reform Act, championed since 2015 by City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito, focuses on quality-of-life violations, such as public drinking, spitting and urinating or being in a park after dark.

Most importantly, the Act allows the NYPD to issue civil rather than criminal summonses for low-level, nonviolent offenses — an option often not chosen under the current system, the bill’s backers say — and encourages cops to do so.

Around 150,000 criminal summonses were issued for quality-of-life violations in 2015, out of about 297,000 total criminal summonses, according to information released by Mark-Viverito.

Just 21 percent of those receiving a criminal summons were found guilty, the Speaker said. However, between 40 and 50 percent of those who received a criminal summons for a quality-of-life violation missed their court date — resulting in a warrant for their arrest.

According to the Office of Court Administration, at the end of last year, 1,166,000 open warrants were on the books for New York City residents.

Of those, 274,000 warrants were out for Brooklyn residents.

And critically, New Yorkers living in neighborhoods like Canarsie, Brownsville and the South Bronx are disproportionately likely to receive a criminal summons.

A 2012 study by Queens College professor Harry Levin and attorney Loren Siegel compared the summonses issued for different types of offenses.

Between 2008 and 2011, the study found, just 8 criminal summonses were issued for riding a bike on the sidewalk in the NYPD’s 78th Precinct, which covers Park Slope,

By contrast, during that same period, 1,706 criminal summonses were issued for the same offense in the 90th Precinct, which covers Williamsburg, while 2,050 summonses were issued in the 79th Precinct, which patrols Bed-Stuy.

Jocelyn Simonson, a professor of criminal law at Brooklyn Law School, said the NYPD’s approach to public drinking clearly reveals enforcement disparities.

“For some, [public drinking means] sitting on a blanket in Prospect Park,” Simonson said, while for others, “it’s sitting on their stoop in a neighborhood with a high police presence. The person sitting on their stoop is much more likely to be given a summons for an open container than the person sitting on their blanket.”

Under the Act, NYPD officers will still be allowed to choose whether to issue a civil or criminal summons for low-level crimes.

But the law states the City Council’s conclusion that criminal summonses “should be used only in limited circumstances,” and requires the NYPD to provide publicly available guidance to its officers on when they should issue civil summonses instead of criminal ones.

Mark-Viverito said the CJRA will divert 100,000 cases from criminal to civil court annually, preventing 50,000 warrants for arrest per year and keeping 10,000 people from getting a criminal record.

Source: Speaker’s Office

The legislative package has the backing of both the NYPD and Mayor Bill de Blasio.

In a statement Wednesday, the NYPD said the Act “allows the NYPD to use the full range of enforcement tools that we currently have to address these offenses,” while it “advances the many steps the NYPD has taken to implement precision policing in all communities throughout the City.”

“The Criminal Justice Reform Act will play a crucial role in building a fairer criminal justice system for all New Yorkers,” Mayor de Blasio said. “We pledged to reduce unnecessary arrests while protecting the quality of life of all our residents, and this legislation is an important step toward this essential goal.”

Despite having received the Council’s blessing, the legislation has received criticism as well.

“Enforcement should be dictated by policies tailored to specific community problems and trends, not overarching legislation,” said Councilman Steven Matteo, the Council’s Republican leader, on Wednesday. “In my view, most of these bills are unnecessary and send the wrong message about our public safety priorities.”

Taking a different approach, Brooklyn College sociologistAlex Vitale has raised concerns about “the discretionary nature of the new rules,” noting that the NYPD can still choose to treat non-violent offenses as a criminal violation.

“What will determine who gets a civil summons, who gets a criminal one, and who gets run for warrants?” Vitalewrote in January.

Simonson said that remains an open question.

“I think we can be optimistic that NYPD practices are going to change, but we won’t know until we see it,” she said. “And it’s hard to change the day-today practices of people who are used to doing things a certain way.”

Top photo by Gerben Jacobs