Grand juries resumed hearing cases in New York City earlier this week after being dormant since mid-March because of the coronavirus pandemic, a development NYPD officials believe will help clear a backlog of cases and deter gun violence, officials said Wednesday.
Since Monday, 14 grand jury panels have begun hearing cases in the five boroughs, said Lucian Chalfen, a spokesman for the state Office of Court Administration. Four of the panels were convened in Manhattan, three apiece in Brooklyn, Queens and the Bronx while one started work in Staten Island, explained Chalfen.
Counties outside New York City such as Nassau and Suffolk counties began hearing grand jury cases in mid-July, noted Chalfen.
NYPD officials and Mayor Bill de Blasio have attributed the spate of recent city shootings to, among other factors, the lack of sitting grand juries, which have resulted in some defendants in gun cases going free without bail while their cases were pending.
In an interview with Newsday last month, Chief Michael LiPetri, head of the NYPD office of crime control strategies, said that while some defendants in the backlog of 1,000 gun cases were being held in jail, about 40% were free on their own recognizance.
The fact that some gun case defendants are out on the street sends a message to other gang members that there is little immediate risk of facing jail if they are caught with a weapon, said LiPetri.
The lack of immediate consequences for carrying a gun has emboldened gang members, according to a number of criminal justice experts.
“They have lost fear of apprehension, prosecution and conviction,” Richard Aborn, head of the Citizens Crime Commission told Newsday on Monday.
NYPD officials didn’t respond to requests for comment Wednesday. But officials with various city district attorneys offices confirmed that they have several cases now before grand juries, including homicides, gun possession, burglary and robbery.
Since mid-May, gun violence has spiked within New York City. Through August 9, shootings have increased over 76% compared to the same period in 2019, with the number of shooting victims jumping over 84%, according to the latest police statistics.