City cops began issuing civil summonses Tuesday for quality of life offenses like public urination and spitting on the sidewalk that don’t require offenders to appear in criminal court, the NYPD said.
The new summons policy started a minute after midnight and mandates offenders appear at the city Office of Administrative Trials and Hearings — known as OATH — which has branches in all five boroughs, according to a special NYPD order. Previously, OATH had one office in Manhattan.
Making certain offenses noncriminal represents the latest move by the city’s Democratic-controlled government to lessen the sting of the criminal justice system, cut the jail population and reduce the number of people with criminal records — factors that disproportionately affect poor people and minorities.
The City Council’s Criminal Justice Reform Act of 2016 provided for civil resolution for offenses previously deemed criminal.
“The punishment must fit the crime and the Council’s landmark criminal justice package will go a long way in ensuring more fair and proportional penalties for those charged with low-level, nonviolent offense,” said Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito, who has made the civil summonses issue a cornerstone of her tenure.
The outcome of the cases most likely will involve the payment of fines.
Cops still have the option of issuing a criminal summons if the person is a recidivist who has ignored prior civil summons, has an open warrant or is being sought for a separate criminal offense, said NYPD Insp. Thomas Taffe, who works in the police commissioner’s office.
Under the order, if a cop wants to send an offender to criminal court for nearly any other reason, the cop must get a supervisor’s permission.
“We have trained about 96 percent of our patrol force” on the new procedures, Taffe said.
OATH’s workload will increase and officials estimate it will be getting somewhat less than 100,000 extra summons, mostly for drinking and urination in public.
Taffe said the civil summons program is an indication that the department is still focusing on quality of life offenses as a way of dealing with people who needed to be deterred from taking the wrong path — a tenet of the Broken Windows philosophy of crime fighting.
“As long as the police officers are out there, paying attention to what is going on and intervening in these low level violations, and not ignoring them, we are doing the job that needs to be done,” Taffe noted.
With Matthew Chayes