NYC to Revisit Policing Tactics

New York City is retooling its longtime strategy of trying to reduce serious crime by cracking down on people who commit minor offenses, like public drinking and littering.

With crime at historic lows, city leaders have rolled out a series of proposals aimed at unclogging courts and jails and undoing damage done to poor, minority neighborhoods by generations of mass incarceration.

It isn’t certain yet how much things will change for borderline lawbreakers, but the idea that there are too many people in jail for piddling offenses is having a moment.

Last week, the mayor, police commissioner and the Manhattan district attorney said people who commit certain low-level infractions in the borough, like urinating in public, won’t be arrested. Instead, they will get a summons to appear in court, saving them from at least a day in jail.

The announcement follows a package of bills introduced by city lawmakers in January that would steer many minor offenders to civil, rather than criminal, courts.

There has been talk about developing an amnesty program for the huge number of New Yorkers like Williams who wind up in jail – sometimes for extended periods – when they miss court appearances or can’t post small amounts of bail because of poverty.

The city has 1.2 million such arrest warrants outstanding, many for failing to appear in court for infractions ranging from disorderly conduct to taking up two seats on the subway to riding a bicycle on the sidewalk.

Statistics show the number of people put in handcuffs in recent years has declined.

Police made 54,000 fewer arrests in 2015 than they did in 2013. The number of people arrested for possession of very small amounts of marijuana has dropped by two-thirds since 2011. Because of public protests, and lawsuits, the police department has curtailed a once-widespread practice of stopping and searching people in the street.