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Long Island police, leaders find fault with state's new bail reform law

Nassau County Police Commissioner Patrick Ryder criticized the new bail reform law at a news conference on Friday. (Credit: Danielle Silverman)

Long Island leaders and law enforcement officials criticized the new bail reform law Friday, with one saying some criminals being released under the measure are already committing new crimes.

The state law, enacted with the new year Wednesday, eliminates cash bail for defendants facing misdemeanors and nonviolent felonies. But several Long Island officials say the law needs to change to grant judges the discretion to assign bail for a defendant, especially if the person is likely commit more crimes.

In addition, several officials said they were already discussing potential changes with lawmakers in Albany.

"I think the judge should have some of that control back," Nassau County Police Commissioner Patrick Ryder said during a news conference in Mineola. "The judge needs that discretion."

Suffolk County Police Commissioner Geraldine Hart said in a statement that she recognized the "potential detrimental effects" of the new rule.

Hart said she was speaking with policymakers to "safeguard our residents." 

Suffolk County Sheriff Errol Toulon Jr. said in a statement that "there are clearly issues with this state law. Judges must have discretion to determine bail based on a criminal defendant’s likelihood to reoffend."

The law was passed in April by the Democratic-controlled State Legislature. Advocates say it will prevent people from being held in jail just because they can't afford to pay for bail.

Many defense attorneys say the bail change means defendants will no longer feel pressured into accepting a plea bargain just to be released from jail.

Opponents, including the Nassau correction officers union, say the law will release dangerous people and drug dealers into the community.

The county executives of both Nassau and Suffolk expressed concern about the law Friday.

Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone said in a statement that the State Legislature should amend the Bail Reform Law to provide for "greater judicial discretion to discern if an individual poses a threat to the community."

Nassau County Executive Laura Curran said many officials and residents had expressed concerns to her about the new law, and that "I too have concerns." 

Curran said in a statement she was discussing the concerns and options with lawmakers in Albany.

"As county executive, my most important job is keeping our residents safe,” Curran said.

Ryder pointed to two recent cases in which people arrested were released without bail and quickly committed new crimes.

Ryder said Maria Campione, 20, of Island Park, allegedly broke into Hewlett Elementary School and pulled the fire alarm on Wednesday. But hours before, she was arrested and released under the new law for allegedly scrawling graffiti on a bank in Oceanside.

He added that she had an "extensive" criminal history dating back to 2017, and including several felonies and misdemeanors. Campione was released again Thursday after her arraignment, but the judge ordered a mental health evaluation and she will have to wear an electronic monitoring device.

In addition, Ryder noted that Gerard Conway, 22, of Westbury, was arrested Friday for allegedly burglarizing a Bagel Boss in Carle Place on Wednesday. But he had been arrested Tuesday and charged with allegedly burglarizing six places in the days prior, and then released without bail. Conway is being treated for a mental health condition, he said.

"If he had stayed in the system, he would not have done that other burglary," Ryder said. "If he had stayed in the system, we may have gotten him help."

Before the law's passage, the state District Attorneys’ Association and others had lobbied unsuccessfully to allow a judge to weigh a defendant’s “dangerousness” in deciding to hold someone on bail.

But advocates for the law had argued that would lead trial judges, who must run for office, to hold almost all defendants on bail for fear of angering the electorate.

Ryder, for his part, said that about 40% of the prisoners in New York, once released, return to prison or jail because they have committed another crime. 

"We are urging Albany to go back and rethink these rules," he said.

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