Mineola Mayor Scott Strauss recently made a heartfelt call for action following the fatal shootings of NYPD Officers Wilbert Mora and Jason Rivera in January.
“How many more innocent people, people like you and me who for whatever reason take a chance and go into the city only to be robbed, assaulted, pushed in front of a train or slashed before our state lawmakers realize they need to change things?” Strauss said.
Strauss has reason to know about crime in New York City.
He served as a detective with the Emergency Service Unit of the NYPD, where he earned the Medal of Honor, the department’s highest award, for his efforts during and after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on the World Trade Center.
Last week, Strauss expanded on his comments to say he was concerned about bail reform, the new Manhattan district attorney’s policies and the need for stricter law enforcement to curtail crime in New York.
“If someone can’t afford to post bail, maybe they should reconsider committing a crime,” Strauss said. “No one is being forced to rape, rob, slash or shoot someone. That is a choice each individual makes.”
We fully share Strauss’ concerns about Manhattan DA Alvin Bragg’s policies not to prosecute certain crimes, since modified, and the need for stricter law enforcement to curtail crime in New York.
We also agree that the changes to bail enacted by the state Legislature in early 2020 and then tightened several months later deserve review.
But we don’t think Strauss’ sincere emotion of wanting to see an end to rising crime nor the partisan politics that has characterized discussions of bail reform by some make the best prescription for addressing the rise in crime.
Crime has risen in big and small cities across the country, run by Republicans and Democrats alike in recent years. Studies show that states that have reformed their bail laws have not seen disproportionate increases in crime.
So clearly bail laws have played at best a small part in the increase in most places with the jury still out in New York.
This has not stopped Nassau County Republicans led by County Executive Bruce Blakeman from blaming the increase in crime in New York City on bail reform.
This appears to be a very effective tactic politically. The GOP, running on crime, swept all four countywide positions in November.
But as the killing of Mora and Rivera shows, putting the blame on bail laws is misplaced.
The two officers were shot when responding to a domestic dispute by a man with a handgun with a bizarre Tommy-gun-style attachment he brought in from Virginia where he had been living.
The police said the gun the man used had been reported stolen in Baltimore years earlier and was equipped with a high-capacity drum magazine capable of holding 40 rounds.
New York City Mayor Eric Adams, who himself served for 20 years in the NYPD, said the shooting underscored the danger to the city posed by the persistent flow of illegal firearms through the so-called Iron Pipeline up the Eastern Seaboard.
“Many people often talk about bail reform,” Adams said, referring to the 2020 change to New York law, criticized by law enforcement groups, that eliminated cash bail for many nonviolent crimes. “But there are other rivers that are feeding this sea of violence. And if we don’t identify them correctly and put in a plan to remove them, we are never going to resolve this issue of violence.”
In the past two years, more than 40 million guns have been sold in this country, adding to the more than 300 million guns already in circulation.
Here’s an easy rule: If someone is talking about a rise in gun violence and does not mention the number of guns out there, think twice before accepting what they have to say.
Adams called on Congress to block the “constant flow” of firearms into the city in response to the shooting of the two police officers and then released a comprehensive plan to address the growing crisis of gun violence in New York City.
The plan includes adding police officers to remove guns, revamping anti-crime police units, changing the law on how the state handles teenage defendants, addressing root causes of crime and appointing judges who want to keep violent criminals off the streets.
He also called for changing laws concerning bail for defendants who are considered dangerous and lowering the minimum age that someone can be charged as an adult.
In visiting with leaders of the state Legislature recently, Adams sought tweaks, not a reversal, of bail law changes that sharply reduced the use of monetary bail for nonviolent offenses and stipulated that only those 18 and older can be criminally prosecuted in New York.
Adams also argued that the Legislature should allow judges to consider a defendant’s perceived “dangerousness” before deciding whether to let the person go without bail.
Democratic legislators said the mayor’s arguments in favor of further changes to bail laws are disputed by data.
“Bail reform is not responsible for the recent spike in gun violence in the city. The state’s own data shows that only 2 percent of the cases that would fall under the bail reform law led to a rearrest for a violent felony,” Brooklyn Assemblywoman Latrice Walker, a key architect behind the bail reforms, said at a news conference.
“Even fewer were rearrested for crimes involving a gun,” Walker said. “What we need are targeted investments in violence prevention, including housing, mental health care, drug treatment and harm reduction services – not more cages.”
The Democratic leadership invited Adams, a fellow Democrat, and Republican legislators last week to provide data that supports additional changes to the bail laws. So far, they have not done so.
A study done in 2017 found that 72 percent of those incarcerated in New York City were behind bars because they could not afford to post bail for their arraignment.
For many, this meant the loss of a job or the breaking up of a family while still under a presumption of innocence. Most of those hurt were Black and brown.
The unfairness of the system crystalized several years ago with a Bronx teenager who spent three years on Rikers Island because his family could not raise $3,000 after he was charged with stealing a backpack, only to have the robbery charge dropped for lack of evidence. The teenager later took his own life.
Does this mean that bail laws should not be tweaked further? No. But changes should be based on facts, not politics or the emotion to do something.
That does not appear to be happening in Nassau County.
The county has been named the safest community in the United States two years in a row by U.S. News & World Report, but Blakeman dismissed the ranking, questioning its methodology
This seemed like a strange thing to do – in effect questioning whether Nassau police were doing as good as a job as the U.S. News & World Report indicated – given Blakeman’s strong ties to law enforcement and what county crime statistics show.
Nassau County Police Commissioner Pat Ryder, who was reappointed by Blakeman, reported in July that in the areas covered by the Nassau County Police Department crime had decreased by more than 10 percent over last year.
And since 2011, Ryder said, major crime in Nassau County has fallen by 36 percent. A decade ago, Nassau saw 7,191 reports of major crime compared with 4,983 last year, Ryder said.
But Ryder recently joined Blakeman in calling for the bail reform laws to be repealed without offering any data on the country’s crime rate to justify the change.
Nor has either Ryder or Blakeman offered support for changes in federal gun laws called for by Adams. Or any other ways to combat the rise in crime in or outside of Nassau County.
This may be good politics, but it is not making us any safer.