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City Council to vote on NYPD civil tribunal bill

The New York City Council is set to vote Wednesday on legislation to encourage the NYPD to issue scaled-back penalties for quality-of-life infractions such as public consumption of alcohol and public urination, while preserving officer discretion.

Penalties that are proportional to the crime — for instance, fines instead of jail time — would spare the undeserving from a criminal record, said sponsors, including City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito (D-Manhattan).

The Criminal Justice Reform Act aims in large part to steer low-level cases to a civil tribunal and away from criminal courts. It would also downgrade city Department of Parks and Recreation offenses, such as being in a park after dark, from misdemeanors to violations.

The eight bills are a compromise among the City Council, Mayor Bill de Blasio and the NYPD, and are the culmination of 1 1⁄2 years of research and discussions.

De Blasio praised the deal in a statement Monday.

He said the act “gives police officers more tools to enforce the law without inhibiting our officers’ ability to keep New York City the safest big city in America.”

An NYPD spokeswoman said the bills advance the department’s “precision policing” mission.

Officers can use the “full range of enforcement tools” at their disposal with the additional option of a civil summons rather than a criminal summons or arrest, NYPD Det. Kellyann Ort said.

The infractions would continue to be illegal acts.

The bulk of minor crimes already have a civil penalty option, though the NYPD is largely not exercising it, the legislation’s sponsors said.

Council member Vanessa Gibson (D-Bronx), chair of the public safety committee, said Monday that the bills would make a bevy of transgressions “infractions to be taken seriously, but not ones that should yield life-altering consequences.”

Communities United for Police Reform, a group of activists pushing for a separate set of police accountability bills that have yet to see a council vote, said the legislation has potential but criticized it for leaving the NYPD in the driver’s seat.

“This is not police reform,” said group member Michael Velarde, “and whether its impact is beneficial to New Yorkers in the long run lies in the details, since the NYPD retains ultimate control over its implementation and the direction given to officers.”

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