Effective Monday, the NYPD has been ordered not to arrest Manhattan pedestrians committing misdemeanors such as urinating on the street and drinking in public, among others. Offenders will instead receive summonses.
With this measure, the authorities expect to reduce the number of arrests processed in Manhattan courts by 10,000 and to put police officers to better use.
This is undoubtedly a step forward for the city’s proposed police reform, which seeks to decriminalize minor offenses and end a system that has punished minorities for years.
It is not clear if this model will be extended to other boroughs in the near future. It is expected to happen ‒ as it would not be fair for only one sector to benefit from it, ‒ and Commissioner William Bratton has said that he will consider it if the initiative is successful.
There are over one million outstanding warrants in the city, most of them for low-level offenses. The problem is that, 38% of the time, offenders fail to appear in court. This may cause them to end up in jail, which will hurt their chances to find employment or housing.
The new policy taking effect on Monday, however, does not give citizens a green light to break the law left and right. It will be at the police officers’ discretion to determine if an arrest is justified.
In any case, district attorneys in other boroughs and the NYPD must consider offering this relief to the rest of the city’s residents as soon as possible. We want to remind them that the police arrested 221,851 people in 2014 for minor offenses.
It is also crucial to help people with open warrants for this type of misdemeanor get a clean slate. Their record should not remain tainted.
Collapsing the justice system and punishing residents with jail for this type of offenses makes no sense.