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Nassau bill seeks data on defendants released without bail

The Nassau County Police Department would be required to produce detailed quarterly crime reports on defendants for lawmakers and the public under a new bill that passed two legislative committees on Monday.

The legislation is a direct response to the state's new criminal justice law, which eliminates cash bail for people charged with misdemeanors and nonviolent felonies. The state law went into effect Jan. 1.

The county legislation was proposed by majority Republicans and also supported by Democratic members of the Rules and Public Safety committees. It is expected to pass the legislature on Feb. 24, and Nassau County Executive Laura Curran said she would sign it into law.

The quarterly reports would include specific data on arrests in the county. 

Presiding Officer Richard Nicolello (R-New Hyde Park) said the reports would help lawmakers and the public learn more about the effect of the new state criminal justice law.

"We can then use this information to make decisions that will help keep our community safe and show state lawmakers exactly how our residents have been affected," Nicolello said.

Nassau's bill would require the reporting of: 

•    The number of defendants released without bail in the county, the charges against those defendants and a brief narrative description of the alleged crimes.

•    For defendants who have been released without bail, the number of bench warrants issued for failure to attend a criminal action or proceeding, including the charges against those defendants and a brief description of the crimes alleged.

•    The number of crimes defendants were charged with while released without bail on a previous criminal charge. The reports would include the charges against the defendants and a description of the crimes allegedly committed while released without bail.

The police department already compiles crime statistics on a monthly basis, and the administration can direct the police department to create a report for the legislature, a Curran spokesman said on Monday.

"While I support formalizing the reporting process on a quarterly basis and will sign the bill, creating this report does not require legislation,” Curran said in a statement. 

Curran, a Democrat, has said she will press for changes to the state bail law.

Last month, Curran announced formation of a coalition to make "common sense" recommendations to state lawmakers for changes to the law. The coalition includes the Nassau and Suffolk County sheriffs, well as leaders of Nassau's law enforcement unions.

The coalition has completed its recommendations, but have not yet submitted them to the State Legislature, a Curran administration official said. 

Supporters of the new state law say the old cash bail system meant incarceration for more low-income defendants because they couldn't afford to post cash or bond bail set by a judge. 

There were 772 inmates in the county jail as of Monday. On the same day last year, there were 1,072, according to county officials. 

Minority Leader Legis. Kevan Abrahams (D-Freeport) said he supports any bill that "provides a greater public understanding of crime stats in Nassau County."

"We've looked at the bill and feel like we are in support," said Abrahams. " … We want to be able to provide these stats to the public."

The legislature is scheduled to hold a hearing Thursday at 11 a.m. to discuss the state bail law's impact on the county, a GOP spokesman announced.

"I look forward to hearing from residents and other stakeholders this Thursday, to further determine the impact these 'reforms' are having on our county," said Nicolello, who has opposed the state bail changes. 

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