This was the headline back in September 1990 when crime in New York had reached astronomical levels. Brian Watkins, a teenage tourist from Utah had been killed a few days before this headline while on the subway with his family returning from the US Open. It was a typical wolfpack robbery (which was commonplace back then) until Brian fought back to protect his family and was stabbed to death. There were 2245 homicides that year and over 100,000 robberies.
We are nowhere near those number now. But with the crime numbers steadily increasing and unprecedented numbers of disturbed homeless in the streets, there appears no end to the increasing decline in New York’s quality of life. Much like back then, the police seem unable to affect what is happening.
Our new mayor is certainly taking a stronger stance on crime than his predecessor, Bill de Blasio. But the levers of power to change this trend actually don’t reside with Mayor Adams. The legislative changes – so-called “bail reform” – that are truly damaging New York City were enacted in Albany and in the NYC Council. And the New York City Council has done nothing to help our new mayor and certainly nothing to help the People of The City of New York.
There were several law changes that the New York City Council passed during the past few years that have seriously eroded the NYPD’s ability to affect disorder and thereby crime. To change New York’s downward spiral, there are three areas in particular that the City Council can help us all.
First, get rid of the so-called diaphragm bill. The Administrative Code law prevents the restraining of an individual by using pressure on the diaphragm by putting pressure on the chest or back during an arrest. If a suspect is resisting arrest, it is extremely difficult to get handcuffs on them without putting them on the ground and stopping them from moving. This law was passed by the city council in 2020. It was initially ruled unconstitutionally vague by an appeals court in 2021, but in May 2022, it was reinstated. This law, probably more than any other factor, makes cops afraid to engage. It makes everyone involved in a physical encounter with the police less safe. We have seen video after video of our police trying to get someone resisting arrest into cuffs. Many of these videos are embarrassing at best and dangerous at worst. Getting a perp quickly in cuffs is the best way to avoid injuries to all parties involved and negate the potential for a perp to grab a cop’s gun. This is a local law and can be undone in a few days by the city council.
The second reform is the quality-of-life summons and court system. Most quality-of-life violators used to be given a criminal court ticket. If they did not go to court a warrant would be issued and the next time they broke the law, they would be taken to criminal court to answer the ticket. Many quality-of-life infractions were made into civil violations in 2017 after a campaign by City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito as part of an overall NYC Criminal Justice Reform Act. Violations such as public urination, public consumption of alcohol, littering, and park rules violations became civil violations. In 2012 there were over 450,000 quality-of-life criminal court summonses issued. Last year cops wrote just over 50,000 total combined civil and criminal tickets. That means in each precinct there are only about 2 tickets written per day. Not by each cop in the precinct, in the entire precinct itself. Fines are actually higher for those who comply with the civil process, but there is no means to force compliance for our more frequent offenders – many of whom are, you guessed it, homeless.
The third is the anarchy scooters cause on our streets and sidewalks. Electric scooters are endemic and create dangerous conditions for all New Yorkers, but particularly children and the elderly. A few years ago, these scooters would all be illegal. Then, in 2020 New York State allowed local governments to make their own regulations regarding these types of vehicles. The New York City Council passed a bill allowing any electric scooters with a pedal to be ridden on our streets. No license, insurance, or registration needed. Even the inept DeBlasio knew this was a bad idea and opposed it. But here we are, more than two years later with the law still in effect. The roads and sidewalks are dangerous. Accidents involving scooters and pedestrians are up. Drivers and bicyclists are stressed out. The FDNY is having a crisis because these scooters and e-bikes are starting fires in residential homes at a rampant pace. And crimes involving scooter getaways is a constant in the news media. It’s time to change the law back and begin confiscating these scooters on sight.
The City Council is responsible for the local laws that govern New York City, and just as their tinkering allowed for these conditions, they have the ability to fix them. It is past time for the City Council to wake up to their responsibility for the safety and quality of life of New Yorkers. In 1990, people demanded that Dave Dinkins “do something”. Today, it is the City Council’s turn.
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