Newly elected Mayor Eric Adams on Wednesday confused his demand to tighten New York’s bail laws – and made remarks on national television that repositioned him in alliance with Albany leaders who are adamantly opposed to scaling down landmark reforms.
He also promised to appoint “the right judges” to the Criminal Court, saying he expected them to make sure that “those who pose an imminent threat to my city” stay away from the streets.
Fresh from his victory on Nov. 2, Adams had surprised state lawmakers when he said a top priority for the first year would be to work with Albany to support bail reform – giving judges the power to lock up repeat offenders before the trial.
“We have noticed a number of cases where people have been extremely dangerous. They have been out the next day and it really raises an issue of public safety, Adams told reporters at the Somos political summit in Puerto Rico.
But when asked by “The View” co-host Whoopi Goldberg if he would like the power to strengthen the bail law as mayor, Adams suggested that his position had evolved after a recent meeting with Assemblyman Latrice Walker (D-Brooklyn).
“What’s happening now is not the bill – the judges,” Adams said on the ABC talk show on the day. “They do not put bail on where they could put bail on.”
A spokesman for the campaign, Evan Thies, said shortly after Adams’ televised appearance that the soon-to-be mayor, a former officer who made the fight against crime a large part of his campaign, had not changed his position.
“The elected mayor believes that there should be additional criteria for bail to protect New Yorkers from violent individuals, and also that judges in the meantime can do more with the tools they have,” Thies said.
Adams may have an ally in Gov. Kathy Hochul, a Democratic colleague who opened the door to change the law as she stands for her first full term next year against progressive candidates, which include state Attorney Letitia James and public attorney Jumaane Williams.
“We will work very closely with Eric Adams to make the changes if necessary,” Hochul told reporters in Albany earlier this week.
Candidates campaigning on the theme of withdrawing bail reform were given district attorneys and county executives in Nassau and Suffolk counties on Long Island, intensifying pressure on Democrats to make concessions in the January legislative session.
Bail reforms signed by the then government. Andrew Cuomo in 2019 demands that judges release defendants after arrest on many non-violent charges. Even when bailing in cash, judges are only allowed to decide if it ensures that someone will show up for their future trial dates.
In certain criminal cases, judges have the power to order someone who is being held in prison. Updates passed last year allow them to take past history into account when deciding on a bail or release plan – but judges are still not meant to consider “danger” in those decisions.
In a recent interview with THE CITY, bill sponsor Walker said it is imperative to hold the line against political pressure to roll back reforms and what she describes as politically motivated misinformation.
“They never gave a chance for the bail reform. “There are thousands of people who have been released and not arrested again, and I consider it a huge success with the bill,” she said. “I look forward to strengthening it and look forward to going on an educational tour to really give people the truth.”
A mix of data
Figures collected by the mayor’s office of criminal justice show that in a given month since the bail reform was passed, more than 95% of those arrested and released before the trial are not arrested again.
At the same time, the MOCJ found that around 25% of those arrested in the first six months of 2021 already had a pending case against them.
State Sen. Michael Gianaris (D-Queens) told THE CITY that his chamber sees no need to change the bill.
“I do not think the data justifies a revisit of what we have done,” said Gianaris, the House’s deputy majority leader and co-sponsor of the bill.
“Eric Adams has not even been sworn in yet and he is already stepping into something in a very unfortunate way and it is not connected to reality,” Gianaris added. “So hopefully – I wish him success – but hopefully he finds out that this is not the source of his problems.”
The bail law, passed two years ago by the Democratic-dominated legislature, quickly became a target for law enforcement leaders, who accused the measure of an increase in crime and gun violence during the pandemic.
Police Commissioner Dermot Shea pointed for months to the reforms as a factor in rising crime, then returned to state legislators in October, saying, “When you look at who we arrest for crimes, it will be small numbers.”
Attacks on the bail reform have also been a principle for GOP legislators, including reps. Nicole Malliotakis (R-Brooklyn / Staten Island), who has often held campaign and congressional press conferences highlighting crimes committed by individuals who had been released without bail.
The message found an audience among New Yorkers nervous about crime. This year, Republicans were given two more seats on the city council, bringing their total to five out of 51 members.
“It’s a worn-out Republican playbook: When in doubt, you arouse the fear of suburban voters,” said Peter Kauffman, rector of Blue Jacket Strategies and Democratic strategist.
The issue will certainly play a major role in the governor’s race, where rep. Lee Zeldin, the New York State GOP’s gubernatorial candidate, has already incorporated a promise to repeal the law into his campaign.
“The biggest problem for people across the spectrum, from right to left, conservatives to liberals, Republicans to Democrats, they tell me they support the abolition of cashless bail,” Zeldin said at a news conference last week. “They share stories of how cashless bail in their county has eroded public safety.”
The Bail Blame Game
Jullian Harris-Calvin, director of the Greater Justice New York program at the nonprofit organization Vera Institute of Justice, said critics of bail reform blame the law for “every crime and public safety incident that occurs.”
“This narrative, mediated by law enforcement and now the incoming mayor, presents a false choice between public safety and criminal justice reform. But rhetoric is not fact, and the facts are clear: the bail reform has proven not only to reduce the number of people in prison, but also to reduce crime and increase public safety, ”said Harris-Calvin.
Adams has tried to thread the needle and say he is not interested in imprisoning the desperate – just the dangerous.
“I’m talking about an imminent threat to security, especially gun violence. If you’re a person firing a gun, or someone who’s found you carrying a gun on several occasions, it needs to be taken into account,” Adams told WNYC’s Brian Lehrer show earlier this month.
“I’m talking about dangerous crimes. I’m not talking about anyone [who] steals food because he or she – they are hungry. I am talking about those who commit the specific violent crimes, ”he added.
For Walker, the difference between discretion and danger is just semantics.
“They use discretion as another way of saying ‘danger’, and that’s the problem here,” she said. “Do not mislead people into believing that something is one way because you want them to jump on board. It’s misleading and misleading, and it’s just not right. ”
“I am more than happy and willing to meet with the governor and the elected mayor to discuss bail reform and why it is better than what we had before,” she added.