Editorial: Nassau’s inadequate response to crime surge

Editorial: Nassau’s inadequate response to crime surge

There were several troubling parts to County Executive Bruce Blakeman’s response to the 75% rise in crime in Nassau in the first three months of the year.

But perhaps the most concerning was Blakesman’s latest argument on how New York’s reformed bail laws have contributed to the increase in crime in Nassau and throughout the state.

“These criminals are allowed out without having to post bail, without any accountability for their actions and the number of crimes they have committed,” Blakeman said in an interview with Blank Slate Media last week. “It’s dangerous and its made us all less safe.”

Let’s set aside the discussion of whether bail should be required for non-violent crimes and how much discretion should be given to judges – and how much discretion the current bail law allows.

But what about the concept of innocent until proven guilty, the underlying legal right in this country for the past 250 years?

Based on his comments, Blakeman appears to believe that anyone arrested is guilty and everyone accused of a crime must post bail regardless of whether they can afford to.

No doubt, doing away with innocent until proven guilty would have certain advantages. We could do away with the time and expense of lawyers, juries and judges and just let the police decide the guilt or innocence of people.

Then again we wouldn’t be living in a country guided by the rule of law.

Blakeman is also wrong about accountability. It is called a trial where prosecutors present evidence, defense lawyers respond, judges preside and juries of their peers decide on innocence or guilt.

This seems to be a truth rarely if ever mentioned in the debate on bail laws. If you are convicted of a crime, there are consequences. You go to prison.

This also raises the question of whether state courts are providing a speedy trial, a right protected under the 6th Amendment.

The fair way to get criminals off the streets is for the courts to uphold that right.

Also troubling is Blakeman’s almost exclusive focus on bail reform as the reason for Nassau County’s surge in crime without any facts to back his argument.

Blakeman signed an executive order in January that cites a need to  “increase transparency by disclosing in daily reports the pending criminal case data and bail status of those rearrested” by the Police Department.

But six months later he has yet to release their results. Why not?

We would think we would have those numbers if they supported his oft-repeated claim that bail law reforms were the cause of the increase in crime in New York.

Rep. Lee Zeldin, the Republican candidate for governor and a close ally of Blakeman, is calling for an end of cashless bail for all crimes — including violent offenses.

New York’s Democratic-led Legislature approved sweeping changes to the state’s bail system in 2019, limiting pretrial incarceration for people accused of most nonviolent offenses.

At the time, tens of thousands of people mostly black and brown were in jail because they could not afford bail.

Lawmakers have twice amended the law to tighten rules for repeat offenders, give judges greater discretion in setting bail and direct judges to consider whether a defendant is accused of seriously harming another person or has a history of gun use.

The Albany Times Union said an analysis of bail laws in January – before bail laws were tightened in April – showed that 2% of the 100,000 people released without bail had been rearrested for violent felonies.

That means 98,000 people did not commit a crime after their release. Statistics are not available for people released on bail who then committed violent felonies.

If Nassau County has information showing different results, then that information should immediately be publicly released and presented to the state Legislature.

By focusing almost exclusively on bail reform, Blakeman also appears to be removing responsibility for rising crime from himself and Nassau police.

This hardly inspires confidence that they will bring the crime rate down.

Nassau County has lacked transparency during Blakeman’s time in office. The county had not updated 2021 Nassau crime statistics since October, when Laura Curran was county executive, until a few weeks ago and only then in response to a Freedom of Information Law request by Blank Slate Media.

The county has also not released monthly crime statistics for 2022. Instead, it released the numbers for January through March 2022 compared to the similar period in 2021 and that only came several weeks ago.

By contrast, New York City releases its crime statistics monthly and by the first week of July had the city’s total for June.

This would seem like an important tool for legislators and county police to combat crime in Nassau County.

New York City’s June report showed a continued decline in shooting incidents. City officials attributed the decline to a program to get guns off the streets of the city.

The city’s report also offers some comparisons going all the way back to 2019.

These would seem like important numbers for Nassau to determine the impact of bail laws. The 2019 and 2020 numbers tell us what happened immediately after the bail laws were reformed in January 2020 and then revised in April of 2020. The 2021 numbers would allow a comparison with 2020.

Likewise, the 2022 numbers would show a comparison with 2021 – two years in which Nassau County was named the safest county in the United States by U.S. News & World Report.

New York City Mayor Eric Adams has cited New York’s bail reform as contributing to the city’s rise in crime and helped lobby the state Legislature to further tighten bail laws this year, only falling short of allowing “dangerousness” to be considered in setting bail.

But Adams has been equally vocal about what he terms other rivers of violencesuch as the lack of national gun laws.

County Police Commissioner Patrick Ryder and Blakeman did warn criminals from out of state to stay out of Nassau after reporting that 75% of the 300 cars stolen in Nassau in the first three months of the year were done by Newark, N.J., residents.

Ryder said the county’s police department is working with Newark to catch the offenders and said the Nassau County Crimestoppers are offering rewards of up to $5,000 for information that leads to arrests of car theft criminals.

But then Ryder and Blakeman again returned to New York’s bail reform and Raise the Age laws to explain the 255% increase in car thefts.

“Because of laws like cashless bail and Raise the Age, people in the whole state have been less safe,” Blakeman said. “We have people who commit crime after crime in New York. They steal a car, they’re out the same day. The next day they steal a car, they’re out the next day.”

These are hardly the kind of words that would scare away criminals from New Jersey.

The Raise the Age legislation is also another excuse for the county’s rise in crime with little or no apparent basis in fact.

In 2017, New York raised the age of criminal responsibility to individuals who are at least 18 years old – the standard for virtually every state in the union.

Any juvenile case for an individual 13 years or older can be transferred to an adult court in New York. In New Jersey, a discretionary and presumptive waiver can be used for youth 15 years or older that meet certain criteria.

In other words, there is little difference between New York and New Jersey in their treatment of people under 18.

County police have pointed out other factors for the rise of car thefts – people leaving keys in unlocked cars. Unbelievable but true.

We’ll add a couple of reasons – expensive cars in affluent neighborhoods, easy access to highways and the illusory protection of living in another state.

Blakeman and the other GOP candidates for countywide office were elected in November with campaigns focused on a statewide increase in crime that they blamed on reforms to bail passed by a Democratic-controlled state Legislature.

So we can expect the complaints to continue. Politically, the use of bail reform appears to have worked.

We have yet to hear one word from county Democrats on the rise in crime. They appear cowed by the Republicans’ previous success in using bail reform against them, Or perhaps, they now agree with the Republicans.

In either case, the result is a lack of transparency, accountability and results amid a surge in crime.

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