The NYPD is considering having cops give written warnings to people for quality-of-life offenses as a way of scaling back the use of criminal sanctions, Commissioner William Bratton said Wednesday.
Bratton’s plan for a written-warning option comes as the City Council considers eight pending bills aimed at moderating the NYPD’s policy of going after people who commit minor offenses like urinating in public and being in parks after closing time.
He has said the filing of criminal charges should be the last option when dealing with recalcitrant offenders but cops must have the discretion to decide when to issue summonses or make arrests.
The police commissioner said that since he took over in 2014, the city has consciously reduced the number of “pro-active” actions by officers, including arrests and summonses. These fewer interactions come at a time when the city continues to enjoy a drop in serious crime, according to Bratton, who, in an unrelated matter, said the potency of officers’ pepper spray devices will increase.
A written warning will serve as documented proof of a police officer’s interaction with an offender, Bratton said. It would also mean any future offenses by the same person could be traced to see if the warning didn’t change behavior, he said.
Presumably, cops would then be able to decide to raise the level of enforcement to include a summons or an arrest.
The City Council measures would broadly steer police summonses for low-level offenses — including misdemeanors — to civil court and away from criminal court. Some misdemeanors would be lowered to a violation as part of the measures.
Regarding pepper spray devices used by police officers, Bratton said he has ordered an increase in the proportion of irritant they contain.
“We are finding time and again that officers were having very little effect, dealing with dog issues in particular, and often times with struggling prisoners,” explained Bratton. “The level of pepper spray we found was to low to have effect on dogs or humans.”
As a result, the NYPD will be raising the proportion of oleoresin capsicum — the pepper-based irritant in the devices — from .21 of 1 percent to .67 of 1 percent, NYPD officials said. Some police departments use sprays containing as much as 1.33 percent, Bratton said.
Some 19,500 cops in transit, housing and patrol units carry pepper spray devices, according to an NYPD spokesman. That number is expected to rise to close to 100 percent of the force, said the spokesman.
Bratton also said the department will increase the number of Tasers used by officers as way of having cops use less force in their encounters with suspects or disturbed persons.