I received a phone call early this year. The old lady on the other end of the phone, terrified, had just been through a traumatic experience. She was suddenly fearful for herself and her family, and was calling me hoping for some help. She knew I was a 25-year veteran NYPD supervisor who had commanded several detective units, and that I would give her straight, unbiased answers.
About Bridget: She’s in her 70s now. Bridget came to the United States from Ireland as a young bride and spent most of her life living and working hard in The Bronx. She had just been out driving with her husband when her well-being was suddenly shattered – possibly forever. She was calling me because she was scared about what the cops had told her would happen after the incident.
Understand, Bridget is as polite a lady as you could find… polite to the point of timidity. She is not aggressive in life or behind the wheel. Even in her younger days she was a slow and deliberate driver, not the person you would want to be driving behind if you were in a rush. She’s the sweet old lady you want to buy a used car from.
Unfortunately, one of the many New Yorkers with a criminal history, an addiction problem, and probably some mental demons took exception to her driving that day, while she was out with her 90-year-old husband. This criminal passed her, cut her off, and got out of his car. He was drunk. He pulled Bridget out of her car and started to slap her. Her infirm husband was powerless to help and mortified that this was happening as he watched helplessly.
Consider an important person in your life. Then imagine how Bridget’s husband felt.
Fortunately, NYPD officers were in the area and arrived almost immediately. The perp fought with the police and was quickly arrested. Then the police told Bridget a few basic facts. They said the criminal had been arrested several times in the past; in fact, he had been arrested for assaulting another elderly lady a few years ago. They also told her that if she agreed to prosecute, her name and address would be given to the criminal’s lawyer and the man who victimized her may well have access to it. Oh, and incidentally, he would probably be out by the end of the day.
Which is when Bridget called me. Why was this happening? Should she go through with the case? Would this man come to her house and terrorize her family again? How come he was he not in jail?
I couldn’t give comforting answers to all her questions, but I could at least answer the first one. The reason that a victim’s personal information is given to a dangerous thug is, simply, because our elected representatives decided that they would not just allow this to happen – they would mandate that it happens, under the new discovery rules.
If you are not aware, “discovery” is the process by which evidence is shared with the defendant in criminal cases. This was one of the changes made in 2020 to the New York State criminal justice system by our state legislators and Governor Cuomo. In the past, there were protections for victims. But because the criminal justice reforms were enacted with literally no input from law enforcement, those protections were simply stripped away.
The results can be summed up simply: Your elected officials voted for changes that made you less safe. Voted for these “reform” measures over the objections of police and prosecutors. Voted for them over the will of their constituents.
Among the new rules in discovery was a strict time limit for the prosecution to present all its evidence. All the interviews, video, paperwork, forensics, computer and phone information. This turned out to be such a disaster, prosecutors began deferring cases and letting dangerous criminals stay on the street, just so they could gather documents and paperwork. Prosecutors feared that a case would be thrown out if they couldn’t gather everything in time to comply with the new rules. This sent the criminal justice system into chaos and allowed dangerous criminals to remain free to commit more crimes.
In May of 2022, after almost a year and a half, conditions were such that even our elected officials in Albany made a small compromise: they extended the discovery time by a few weeks, and added some safeguards to protect victims’ home addresses.
While this has been a small improvement, one must ask: Why not take the time to listen to all stakeholders before making legally binding decisions that affect us all? Especially after they obviously got it wrong the first time?
No one argues that improvements to our legal system cannot be made. We all know that the rights of defendants need to be protected. However, if you are entrusted to represent the people, you have a responsibility to be informed and judicious. Our leaders in Albany have shown themselves to be anything but.
Similar soft-on-crime measures are being implemented in many parts of the country. So if you are reading this outside of New York State, I would encourage you to look at your local, state, and federal representatives. If they are not looking out for you, well then, who are they looking out for? Who will look out for the Bridgets in our cities?
The answer, actually, is not our politicians, but the American voter. Know your representatives, and if they are voting for measures like the current New York criminal justice reforms, vote them out. Fast. We’ve hit a point that we must demand more accountability from our elected officials.
Otherwise, you may well end up like Bridget someday – only to discover what she did. No matter who you call for answers – the voice on the other end likely won’t have them.