Senate GOP requests bail reform study

Senate Minority Leader Rob Ortt, left, speaks in the state Capitol in a joint Republican press conference with Assembly Minority Leader Will Barclay, right, on June 8. File photo

State Republicans want answers.

Senate Minority Leader Rob Ortt, R-North Tonawanda, sent a letter Tuesday on behalf of 20 Republican senators in the chamber’s minority to request the state Office of Court Administration and state Division of Criminal Justice Services conduct a thorough study and analysis of the state’s bail reform laws and potential links to the violent crime surge across the state since January 2020 and publicize the conclusions.

Republican leaders across the state continue to tie the state’s controversial cashless bail changes included in the 2019-20 budget, which went into effect Jan. 1, 2020, in the spike in shootings, homicides and other violent crimes seen across the state and nation since early last year.

“The timing of the recent surge in shootings and violent crime directly correlates with the implementation of changes to the bail laws passed by the majorities in the Legislature,” according to Ortt’s letter. “...It is common sense that releasing more defendants pending trial will lead to an uptick in crime. ... many of these individuals become repeat offenders. Releasing these individuals back out onto the streets only increases the likelihood they will re-offend pending trial.”

Representatives with Democrats in the Senate majority conference declined to comment.

“We have just received the letter and will be giving the requests by the senator due consideration,” state Office of Court Administration spokesman Lucian Chalfen said in a statement Tuesday.

The bail reform law requires the Office of Court Administration to compile and publicize data to show how judges have implemented the statute every six months. The Division of Criminal Justice Services is required to report the data annually starting Jan. 2, 2022.

The state handled 184,118 arraignments in 2020, including 52,389 felonies and 131,729 misdemeanors, according to the state Unified Court System Division of Technology and Court Research Pretrial Release Data Dashboard. Justices disposed of more than 26,700 cases.

The office reports 15,954 people were granted nonmonetary release, including 8,359, or about 16% of felony cases, and 7,595, or 5.8% of misdemeanor cases.

The state reports 2,626 people with felony charges, or about 5% granted nonmonetary release were arrested on subsequent offenses. Roughly 2.3%, or 2,992 people with a misdemeanor were arrested on additional charges after release.

Reported index crime in New York State remained near historically low levels last year, according to the Division of Criminal Justice Services. Crimes in 2020 increased 1.5% from 2019, which was the seventh consecutive year that index crime reached an all-time low.

“Gun violence has increased in communities – with or without bail reform laws – across the country since the onset of the COVID pandemic,” state Division of Criminal Justice Services spokeswoman Janine Kava said Tuesday. “At the same time, however, overall crime in New York state has remained near all-time reported lows. Pointing solely to bail reform as a reason ignores the complex, confluence of factors due to COVID and other factors historically associated with gun violence, including but not limited to: Unemployment, closure of schools and other essential programs; isolation from family, friends and support systems; an increase in the number of outdoor gatherings; and social unrest and anti-police sentiment in communities.”

Bail was set for 16,606, or 31.7% of the state’s 2020 felony cases and 7,348, or about 5.6% of the cases involving misdemeanors last year, according to the court system’s statewide pretrail data.

More than 88,250 people charged with a misdemeanor in the state in 2020 were released on their own recognizance, or released without bail, compared to 22,462 people arraigned on a felony offense.

State Republicans continue to voice concern for the increase in New York City shootings, which skyrocketed 97% from 2019 to 2020, and are up another 53% from last year’s levels.

Shootings in state metropolitan areas outside New York City increased 74.5% in 2020 compared to 2019, according to the Gun Involved Violence Elimination Initiative, which Ortt cited in his letter. Shootings across the state have continued to rise an additional 41.6% this year from 2020.

“It would be helpful if there was an analysis to examine the spike in crime rates across the state in correlation with the passage of pro-criminal policies, including bail ‘reform’ measures,” Assembly Leader Will Barclay, R-Pulaski, said Tuesday. “The substantial violent crime surge we are suffering through should be addressed using a comprehensive approach to adopt and implement new policies that allow law enforcement and criminal justice professionals to do their jobs and protect the residents of this state. Law-abiding citizens and innocent victims of senseless crime should not have to watch their communities be further destroyed by violence while criminals are given a free pass to continue to wreak havoc in the streets.”

Barclay penned a letter to DCJS Executive Deputy Commissioner Michael Green on June 3 requesting the division conduct a thorough analysis of the state’s rising crime and its root causes. He pushed Tuesday for the Legislature to take up the Assembly’s Restore Order legislation package, which includes measures to remove all gun crimes as eligible for cashless bail, giving judges more judicial discretion over setting bail and requiring the state parole board members to unanimously decide to release a person from prison early, among others.

A Wall Street Journal homicide analysis last August showed reported homicides in the nation’s 50 largest cities were up 24%, with 36 of those cities seeing double-digit, homicide-rate increases.

Shootings, homicides, burglaries and car thefts exponentially increased in most U.S. cities in 2020, while other crimes, like sex offenses, declined. Each of those violent crimes and felonies remain eligible for cash bail in New York.

Gov. Cuomo declared an executive order July 6 and seven-step plan to combat surging gun violence in New York City focused on increased funding for intervention programs to engage at-risk youth in job opportunities, support ongoing gun violence prevention services and mapping shooting incidents to targeting violent city hot spots.

Barclay, Ortt and other state Republican leaders, including leading 2022 gubernatorial nominee Congresssman Lee Zeldin, R-1, have repeatedly criticized Cuomo’s administration and Democrats in naming the COVID-19 pandemic as the main factor for the violent crime surge, and not considering bail reform a factor.

Earlier this month, representatives with the governor’s office referred to a Politifact article from August that debunked former President Donald Trump’s claim that New York eliminating cash bail for certain criminal offenses last year led to the state’s dramatic spike in crime in urban areas.

Experts say it’s too soon to understand the factors driving state and national crime rates. The Republicans’ requested study could provide concrete answers.

“This state is in the midst of a self-inflicted crime crisis,” according to Ortt. “In order to come up with solutions, we must fully understand the consequences of recent policies.”

The state has tracked crime data since 1975. DCJS publishes comprehensive crime data and shooting incident data for the 20 police agencies that participate in the state’s Gun Involved Violence Elimination initiative.

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