- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 3, 2016

The New York Police Department next week will stop automatically arresting individuals caught urinating, littering and drinking alcohol in public in Manhattan, eliminating the need to open approximately 10,000 criminal cases each year.

City officials said in a joint statement that the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office will no longer prosecute most low-level violations or infractions starting Monday, and that those offenses will no longer be instant grounds for arrest “unless there is a demonstrated public safety reason to do so.”

Cyrus Vance Jr., the district attorney for New York County, said the maneuver will keep the court system from being “unnecessarily bogged down with minor offenses committed by those who pose no threat to public safety,” and instead will allow authorities to devote their resources toward enforcing and investigating serious crimes.

“By giving cops the discretion to issue summonses instead of requiring them to make arrests, we ensure they do not spend hours processing cases as minor as littering, and we enable officers to get back to patrolling, investigating and keeping our neighborhoods safe,” Mr. Vance said.

“And by reducing unnecessary incarceration, we make our criminal justice system fairer for all New Yorkers,” he added.

The decision will apply to infractions including public consumption of alcohol, public urination and various subway offenses, such as riding between train-cars and taking up more than one seat at a time.

Current rules let law enforcement officials use their discretion in determining whether individuals accused of these low-level crimes should be arrested or issued a summons. Starting Monday, however, the NYPD will only arrest violators in the cases of risk to public safety.

Additionally, officers have been directed not to conduct an arrest if it’s revealed while issuing a summons that there’s an open warrant for the individual, or if the person is unable to produce identification.

In the event of the former, authorities will instead be required to bring the person to Manhattan Criminal Court to face a judge on both matters. In the latter case, the new rules call for transporting the person to a local precinct where they can make arrangements to confirm their identity.

“This new policy in Manhattan will save valuable police resources. Police officers can now quickly return a person to court on a warrant and, at the same time, adjudicate their current summonable offense, all without jeopardizing the public safety,” NYPD Commissioner Bill Bratton said.

“Using summonses instead of arrests for low-level offenses is an intuitive and modern solution that will help make sure resources are focused on our main priority: addressing threats to public safety,” Mayor Bill De Blasio said.

The NYPD issued around 359,000 summonses during 2014 for low-level infractions, the Wall Street Journal reported. Nearly 20 percent of those persons have failed to pay their fines after pleading guilty, however, creating an immense backlog for the city’s criminal summons court.

More than 1.1 million New Yorkers have open summons warrants for failing to appear in court, Mr. Vance’s office said.

• Andrew Blake can be reached at ablake@washingtontimes.com.

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