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A common-sense call on looming criminal justice reforms

A undated photo of the Nassau County Correctional

A undated photo of the Nassau County Correctional Center in East Meadow. Credit: Daniel Brennan

On Jan. 1, a new set of criminal justice reforms will become law in New York. And, while the intentions of these measures are to bring compassion and fairness to the legal system, city and village mayors will face massive fiscal and logistical problems.

At the heart of the matter for hundreds of communities across the state like Freeport, where I am mayor, is that a significant budget problem will soon land on the desks of mayors and municipal officials. Local taxpayers will be asked to shoulder the burden stemming from an unfunded state requirement to produce countless hours of video, police reports, witness statements and a host of other evidence, all within a 15-day window for virtually every law enforcement action, from serious crimes to minor violations that include vehicle infractions and violations of the building code.

Budget analysts in Freeport estimate $2.5 million in additional costs are required to meet this aggressive schedule. Initially, that cost will manifest itself in the form of overtime — and if not corrected, the need for additional staff.

The matter is further complicated for those with budgets that already have been enacted, or who are in the process of formulating spending plans. It is important to note that this matter most directly falls on city and village police departments who make the majority of arrests.

Several weeks ago, my colleagues at the New York State Conference of Mayors and Municipal Officials offered a series of proposals to help address the issue in the hopes of avoiding a fiscal and logistical train wreck.

These include:

  • Postpone by six months the implementation of this year’s reforms until July 2020;
  • Ensure that the state provides cities and villages with additional financial support to offset the cost of the measures;
  • Exclude from discovery any violations or information not charging a misdemeanor or crime;
  • Require expedited discovery only when defendants are incarcerated;
  • Make discovery in felony cases not applicable until after indictment;
  • Provide a stay from discovery requirements for 30 days for cases which may be subject to plea discussions;
  • Withhold sensitive information, such as victim contact information, without having to obtain a court order.

These common-sense ideas are critical to bringing a more measured transition to reforms, which state officials found compelling, but need modification to be implemented fairly and without impact on local taxpayers. 

Robert T. Kennedy is the mayor of the Village of Freeport, and for 2019-20 serves as president of the New York State Conference and Municipal Officials.