Editorial Roundup: New York

Albany Times Union. November 21, 2021.

Editorial: Get facts before revising bail reforms

From the start of the debate over criminal justice reform in New York, some people were simply against any substantive change. And with little more evidence than they had two years ago, they continue to oppose it.

Gun violence going up? Blame bail reform — even though it’s happening in states that didn’t enact bail reform, too. A judge lets a defendant loose three times in one day? Blame bail reform and call for more judicial discretion — even though bail reform gave that judge the discretion to hold the defendant after the second arrest. Can’t find a substantive issue to run for office on? Blame bail reform.

This wouldn’t be so troubling if these weak arguments didn’t seem to be gaining traction in a society anxious about shootings and among politicians looking to give the appearance of doing something. We’re not talking about hard-line law-and-order types who opposed reform from the outset, or police and district attorneys whose jobs got harder when they could no longer hold over a defendant’s head long, financially crushing detention before trial to strongarm them into making sometimes false confessions and taking pleas. They were never going to embrace reform.

We’re talking about fairly progressive folks like Gov. Kathy Hochul, who last week suggested she might be open to tweaking the reforms, if the Legislature offers a proposal. Her statement — that she wanted to “first of all protect public safety” but also “ensure that we have a system of true justice for all individuals” — may have been noncommittal, but it no doubt heartened those who would roll back the reforms to have her open the door.

Then there was Albany Mayor Kathy Sheehan, who said there’s “enough data now that there’s been identified some opportunities to take a look at bail reform so that we can get it right.”

What data, we wonder, is the mayor referring to? The data that shows that between 2019, when bail reform passed, and 2020, when it took effect, there was no change in the rate of violent crime committed by people released and awaiting trial in New York City, according to Vital NYC, an advocacy group? Or statewide data on people rearrested after being released that has no detail on the charges against them? Or comparable data prior to bail reform— that doesn’t exist?

The debate over bail reform — and other reforms like raising the age at which young people can be tried as adults or not sending people on parole back to prison for minor violations — has been rife with disinformation. And yes, we realize that people are concerned about a rise in violent crime. But the real culprits may be found elsewhere in less cut-and-dried explanations — like all the complex stresses of a pandemic that has had a devastating economic and emotional impact on many people, leaving them uncertain where their next paycheck is coming from, or if going to work will kill them, or whether they’ll soon be homeless — stresses that have fueled the surge in illicit drug use and overdoses.

Before politicians anxious to appease an uneasy public go grasping for solutions, it’s essential that they get some facts. That’s what Governor Hochul and the Legislature should be seeking — a thorough, honest, dispassionate study of the effects of criminal justice reform — not quick fixes that may fix nothing at all, and only make our criminal justice system less just.

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Advance Media New York. November 21, 2021.

Editorial: Police, attorney general should be more transparent about police shootings

When police officers use deadly force against a civilian, they must justify such an extreme outcome. Police squander any benefit of the doubt the public may give them when they close ranks and stay silent about the circumstances that led them to kill someone.

In the past, Syracuse police have been fairly quick to release some information about fatal police shootings, and the chief has taken questions publicly about them. That all changed last month after an incident on Tipperary Hill.

Syracuse police shot and killed Allison Lakie, 31, apparently after she lunged at them with a knife. The incident began as a call about a person in crisis. At some point, the fire department was summoned to put out an arson fire. We still don’t know how events spiraled into four officers firing their weapons at Lakie, who later died.

The New York Attorney General, who now investigates all police shootings in the state, swooped in to take over this case. This led to some bizarre finger-pointing between Syracuse police and the AG over how much the public would be told about what happened.

Syracuse police concluded they could say nothing, citing the AG’s desire to control the release of information. That went against the department’s past practice saying what happened immediately after an incident, taking questions and naming the officers involved within 72 hours. Chief Kenton Buckner then announced a new policy stating that the department will no longer release any information when officers have killed someone and the case is being investigated by the state.

In other Upstate jurisdictions, police leaders have been more forthcoming about deadly force incidents, despite the involvement of the AG’s office. Just this past week, the Onondaga County Sheriff’s Office issued a detailed news release about the death in custody of a man who had been revived from an apparent drug overdose. The attorney general will investigate.

Meanwhile, the AG’s office said there was nothing to prevent Syracuse police from addressing “personnel matters’′ — presumably naming the officers involved and revealing their duty status. After nine days of pestering by Syracuse.com reporters, Syracuse police released the names of the four officers involved in the Lakie shooting and confirmed they were on administrative leave. The department has released no other details about the shooting.

Many things remain unclear, including what happened over several hours the police were there, how many times the woman was shot, where in the residence the shooting occurred and how much damage was left by the fire. We expect the AG’s investigation to answer these questions in due course.

And therein lies a tricky balance for the authorities investigating police shootings. The reason the AG is involved at all is because the public lacks confidence in the ability of local police and prosecutors to investigate their own. If the Attorney General’s Office wants to take this job over from the police — and do it better than the police — then it should be more open than the police, not less.

To build public confidence and establish a reputation for investigating police shootings without fear or favor, the AG’s office should be as transparent as is possible every step of the way. It should develop consistent practices for timely releasing information to the public. Secrecy only allows rumors to flourish and fuels the perception the authorities have something to hide.

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Dunkirk Evening Observer. November 22, 2021.

Editorial: New York State An inconsistent message from GOP

Some New York Republicans have left us scratching our heads with their stance on Gov. Kathy Hochul’s planned closure of six state prisons.

Hochul’s move streamlines the prison system and saves the state money. It’s not easy, as we learned locally earlier this year when the state closed the Gowanda Correctional Facility. It’s one more job provider leaving counties that need the higher wage jobs that a correctional facility can provide. But sometimes closing prisons must be done despite the local pain.

Imagine our surprise, then, when Republican Leader Robert Ortt, R-Lockport, took a stance that, frankly, makes no sense for a Republican to take.

Rather than welcome the cost-cutting, Ortt blasted Hochul’s decision as a punishment to hard-working corrections officers. The news is bad for corrections workers, but the news would stink for any state department that finds itself being cut.

Ortt was trying to score a political point, but in this instance, what he really did was undermine the Republican Party’s arguments against Democrats’ writing big checks that taxpayers are expected to pay. Ortt just contradicted six months’ worth of upcoming floor speeches by his members in his rush to excoriate a decision by a Democrat that likely will turn out to be a good one. If those six prisons were fully staffed to run at half capacity, we’re sure Ortt and his fellow Republicans would be jumping up and down about how Hochul and the Democrats were only keeping the prisons open as a favor to the unions that represent the prison workers.

You can’t have your cake and eat it too, Mr. Ortt.

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New York Post. November 23, 2021.

Editorial: Deadly result of progressive arrogance on bail reform

It’s hard to beat the arrogance of Milwaukee County District Attorney John Chisholm, who actually admitted back in 2007 that his low-bail policies would someday see a beneficiary “go out and kill somebody.” Though “it’s guaranteed to happen,” he argued, “it does not invalidate the overall approach.”

Ouch. That has to be cold comfort to the survivors of the Dancing Grannies and others slain in the attack on the Waukesha Christmas parade, including little Jackson Sparks.

Chisholm’s concession that the $1,000 cash bond given Darrell Brooks just days before Sunday’s parade carnage was “inappropriately low” won’t help, either.

But his arrogance is rivaled by Reps. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Carolyn Maloney and Jamie Raskin, who just wrote the five city district attorneys demanding answers on “excessive bail” supposedly trapping innocents on Rikers.

The three congressfolk seem unaware that Rikers’ population is at its lowest in decades (other than after the early releases when COVID hit) thanks to criminal-justice reforms that rule out any chance of jail for most perps, as well as those same DAs’ refusal to even prosecute many low-level crimes. Only (some of) the truly violent can be given high bail and remanded to Rikers.

As Bob McManus notes, “Darrell E. Brooks has become the latest face of America’s deranged campaign against reasonable law enforcement.” AOC & Co. should consider that face — and those of his alleged victims — before posturing again. But they won’t and never will.

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