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New York's chief judge says civil courts can address some of New York City's quality of life offenses

New York State's chief judge weighed in Monday on the fight over NYPD enforcement of quality-of-life crimes by suggesting that civil courts handle lesser offenses and others, such as public urination, be treated as a crime.

"I believe in common sense, and my own common sense tells me that ignoring quality-of-life offenses can create an environment leading to the commission of more serious criminal activity," Judge Jonathan Lippman said at a midtown breakfast hosted by the nonprofit Citizens Crime Commission.

City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito has proposed decriminalization for quality-of-life crimes while NYPD Commissioner William Bratton, backed by Mayor Bill de Blasio, wants his officers to maintain the ability to give a criminal summons.

Lippman tried to strike a balance between both sides during his speech. "Benign" offenses, such as public alcohol consumption and riding a bike on the sidewalk, shouldn't be crimes but handled in a civil administrative court, Lippmann said.

"The great benefit of doing that is, with a more manageable case load, summons court could devote more attention to the remaining, more serious cases," the judge said.

He referred to a John Jay College of Criminal Justice study released Monday that found from 2003 to 2013, about 40 percent of those given criminal summonses don't show up on their court dates. The study also found that barely a quarter of the cases lead to convictions, with most resulting in fines.

Court statistics obtained by Newsday show that in 2014, out of about $33.6 million in fines and mandatory fees levied in criminal court offenses, only $8.9 million was collected.

Speaking to reporters after the breakfast, Bratton said that he believed a compromise could be worked out with Mark-Viverito and others on the council.

"I will be continuing to emphasize, however, that in the area of quality-of-life enforcement I need to keep a set of tools in our toolbox . . . to give officers the right to use criminal law to enforce quality-of-life violations," Bratton said. "If you lose those powers to arrest, that is where the Pandora's box is open and the 1970s and 1980s have potential to come roaring back."


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