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Shea, de Blasio optimistic about falling crime but concerned over reforms

New York City Police Commissioner Dermot Shea, center,

New York City Police Commissioner Dermot Shea, center, with New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio, right, before a crime statistics briefing Thursday in the Bronx. Credit: Charles Eckert

In his first crime briefing since taking over as NYPD commissioner, Dermot Shea expressed optimism about the city's ongoing drop in serious crime but both he and Mayor Bill de Blasio voiced concerns about how criminal justice reforms might affect the department and the public.

Even before Shea became commissioner, he said some parts of the new criminal justice measures that go into effect Jan. 1 troubled him. The changes require that prosecutors turn over evidence, including witness data, to defense attorneys, generally in about 15 days. The reforms will also limit discretion of judges to keep defendants in jail without bail in the vast majority of cases.

Shea said Thursday he was in favor of reform generally but worried that courts turning defendants loose — even violent crime suspects — without bail, will have a chilling effect on public cooperation with cops.

"Am I going to be fearful to interact with the police because my [personal] information is going to be immediately turned over to somebody dangerous on my block?” Shea asked rhetorically. “These are real problems.”

Shea and de Blasio painted a generally pleasant picture regarding crime in the city. Serious felonies like burglary, robbery, homicide and rape have shown an overall decrease of 1.3% from the same period in 2018, according to the latest NYPD data. 

While Shea viewed the overall crime trends as good news, a drill down into the numbers showed an 8.7% spike in homicides, with smaller percentage increases in robbery and felony assaults, said NYPD Chief of Crime Strategies Lori Pollock.

“The good news, overall crime continues to go down,” de Blasio said at the briefing “But, we are very focused on the challenge of homicide, year-to-date we are up 22 homicides. That is simply not acceptable.”

More than half of the 299 homicides so far this year were committed using firearms, Pollock said, with 20% involving victims of domestic violence and at least 26% being gang related.

De Blasio also expressed concern about the impact of the reform measures, particularly their potential affect on the state's smaller suburban and rural police departments. De Blasio pointed to the fact that the reforms are unfunded mandates with no state money included to implement them.

“It is even harder for our colleagues in the suburbs and upstate who really literally don’t have a way to afford it,” said the mayor, who previously has estimated the new discovery requirements will cost the city about $100 million.

Both de Blasio and Shea said they hoped state legislators would reconsider tinkering with some of the reforms in the new Albany legislative session.

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