New York City Police Commissioner Dermot Shea during a monthly...

New York City Police Commissioner Dermot Shea during a monthly crime briefing to update reporters on crime statistics on Jan. 6. Credit: Howard Simmons

With warmer weather approaching, and with it, a traditional spike in crime, serious felonies in New York City got an early jump in the first two months of 2020, climbing by nearly 20% over the same period in 2019, according to the latest NYPD statistics.

Apart from dips in homicides and rapes, serious felony offenses, including robbery, felonious assault, burglary and auto theft, have steadily risen since Jan. 1. Queens and parts of northern Manhattan have seen the biggest jumps —  more than 24%.

The crime increase is believed to have been primarily caused by the state bail reform law that went into effect Jan. 1, a high-ranking NYPD official said Monday.

The two-month spike — and the NYPD's plan to stem it — are expected to be the main topics of discussion Tuesday at the monthly crime briefing by Police Commissioner Dermot Shea and Mayor Bill de Blasio.

“It is uncharted territory,” said Eugene O’Donnell, a professor at John Jay College of Criminal Justice in Manhattan, of the increase.

While O’Donnell, a former NYPD officer and city prosecutor, as well as others believe bail reform is partly responsible for certain offenders being freed to commit more crimes, there is also a belief that other criminals are emboldened by the fact that police seem less reliant on arrests for certain offenses.

“A kinder, gentler justice system has benefits," O'Donnell said, "but there has to be teeth in the system.”

Through March 1, the city saw a total of 16,343 serious felonies, compared with 13,648 in the same period for 2019. The largest increases have occurred in robberies, up nearly 35%, burglaries, up 21.1%, and auto theft, at the highest level in five years — 64.4%. In the same period, homicides were down 16.7% and rapes fell by 13.7% while shootings rose 19.1%.

The weekly police Compstat report on the internal NYPD document highlights increases in yellow, such a prevailing color lately that one former department officer referred to the spike as a “yellow tsunami.”

Earlier this year Shea, as well as other law enforcement officials, pointed at bail reform as a factor in the sudden increases in serious crime. Police data through Jan. 28 showed that 143 people arrested and released without bail went on to re-offend and commit 239 crimes, including serious felonies, petit larceny and drug offenses.

But re-offenders and bail reform don’t seem to explain all of the crime increases, said Richard Aborn, head of the Citizens Crime Commission. 

“We are probably past the blip stage,” Aborn said.

The bail component of the overall criminal reform law, which took effect Jan. 1, has to be addressed in Albany, he acknowledged, but state legislators need to also consider changes to criminal discovery laws, which some prosecutors claim have overtaxed their offices.

Under the bail reform, most criminals can be released without posting bail. Reform to the discovery phase on a criminal case accelerated the requirement that prosecutors and police turn over evidence and other documents to defense attorneys. 

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