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Suozzi criticizes Hochul on crime on eve of her State of State address

Rep. Tom Suozzi talks during a press conference

Rep. Tom Suozzi talks during a press conference in Syosset on Oct. 19, 2021. Credit: Newsday/J. Conrad Williams Jr.

ALBANY — Rep. Tom Suozzi took a shot at fellow Democrat Gov. Kathy Hochul, saying she’s failed to make reducing crime a priority.

Suozzi (D-Glen Cove), who wants to challenge Hochul in a primary, held a news conference to repeat some of his key platform ideas on crime, including changing the state’s bail laws, increase community policing and gun buybacks, and promote anti-violence programs.

But the congressman focused on the growing number of shootings and violent crime and criticized Hochul, on the eve of the governor’s State of the State address.

"The preeminent job of the governor is public safety and it’s shocking to me she hasn’t made this a priority," Suozzi said. Hochul's campaign didn't comment immediately.

The congressman restated his proposal to change the state’s bail laws to give judges more discretion to retain defendants based on their past criminal record or threat to safety.

The Democratic-led State Legislature and then-Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo overhauled the law in 2019 to eliminate bail for most misdemeanors and nonviolent crime. Republicans have said the change has helped fuel a rise in crime and used the issue effectively in 2021 elections, even though state statistics show only a small percentage of defendants released without bail commit another crime.

Now, even some Democrats — including Suozzi and New York Mayor Eric Adams — want to roll the law back to a degree, to allow judges more leeway to hold defendants.

"Give judges authority to consider public safety as well as flight risk," Suozzi said. "Look at a defendant’s prior criminal record."

Progressive Democrats who fought for the 2019 bail law have said a rollback could lead to racial profiling with minorities being disproportionately detained and low-level defendants being held on high bail amounts.

Suozzi didn’t provide details on precisely what factors or types of crimes should be subject to judicial discretion, saying he’d release specifics later in the campaign. But he said New York Democrats must take action.

"If we don’t address this problem, it’s a failure," Suozzi said.

Hochul hasn’t been sharing what her approach might me. In December, she said she was looking at all policy options.

"It is a conversation that I have already had with our legislative leaders," Hochul said. "Our main focus is public safety, protecting people where they live, and finding all of the opportunities to do that, and make sure it makes sense."

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