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Cyrus Vance to stop prosecuting some low-level Manhattan offenses

New York District Attorney Cyrus Vance Jr. testifies

New York District Attorney Cyrus Vance Jr. testifies before the House Judiciary Committee on the encryption of the iPhone belonging to one of the San Bernardino attackers on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC, on March 1, 2016. Credit: AFP / Getty Images / Nicholas Kamm

People stopped in Manhattan for public urination, drinking in public, taking up two subway seats and most other low-level offenses may be spared from criminal prosecution beginning next Monday, officials announced.

NYPD officers in the borough may issue summonses rather than handcuff and process such offenders unless public safety is threatened, officials said Tuesday.

Additionally, police will no longer automatically arrest those cited for such offenses who are lacking photo ID or found to have open warrants, officials said.

The initiative will divert about 10,000 offenders annually and prevent from the Manhattan criminal court system from being “bogged down,” District Attorney Cyrus Vance said.

“By giving cops the discretion to issue summonses instead of requiring them to make arrests, we ensure they do not spend hours processing cases as minor as littering,” Vance said in a statement, “and we enable officers to get back to patrolling, investigating, and keeping our neighborhoods safe.”

He added that the measure — a joint initiative by his office, the NYPD and Mayor Bill de Blasio — helps to reduce “unnecessary incarceration” of those accused of low-level crimes.

Brooklyn District Attorney Ken Thompson, who in 2014 stopped prosecuting most low-level marijuana cases, said he has long advocated for dealing “head on with our broken summons court system.” Representatives for the top prosecutors in Queens, the Bronx and Staten Island did not immediately offer comments in response to requests.

NYPD Commissioner William Bratton in a statement said the Manhattan policy “will save valuable police resources.”

If a person receiving a summons for a minor crime has an open warrant, they will not be placed under arrest and processed but instead taken directly to court to face a judge on both matters, officials said.

If they can’t produce a photo ID, they will be taken to a police precinct until someone can bring their identification, officials said.

Vance’s office said it will continue to prosecute non-penal law violations and infractions that involve drugs, weapons and vehicular offenses, such as driving while impaired.

City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito has proposed broader limits on criminal penalties for quality-of-life offenses. Her spokesman Eric Koch commended Vance’s action, but said, “there is more work to be done.”

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