Steps are needed to assure crime victims that the system...

Steps are needed to assure crime victims that the system is on their side, not the miscreants’. Credit: Getty Images/Jack Berman

The region’s rise in crime continues to pose an amalgam of law-enforcement challenges in 2023. Glaring highlights range from gang shootings to routine fare evasion in urban neighborhoods to bulk shoplifting and catalytic converter and auto thefts plaguing Nassau and Suffolk counties. Mental illness and substance abuse still fuel the menacing presence of people acting out on streets and on public transit.

The kaleidoscope of overlapping pathologies and disregard for the law lead voters across our communities to express public safety concerns at the polls, especially when they think elected officials are ignoring or talking down to them.

But for several years there has also been a rational reaction against the sweeping “crackdown” mantras of previous decades. All-out pushes against the smallest offenses, mass incarceration of people from minority communities, unpunished police abuse, random frisks for weapons, and excessive pretrial detentions should not make a comeback.

Given the political crosscurrents, it is an extra tricky moment to balance the scales of justice between security and freedom. But it's necessary to try. Are elected officials capable of such an emotionally charged and difficult collaboration? Striving for liberty and security at the same time is not impossible.

Local agencies enforce laws. State lawmakers write them. And so it is to Albany that the public must look for that better blend of constitutional protections for the accused and ways to isolate and deter people whose presence plainly poses a menace.

Gov. Kathy Hochul has once again requested changes in her annual budget proposal, where she exercises extra clout, aimed at allowing New York judges broader discretion to set bars for the release of those likely to commit new crimes even with previous charges unresolved.


"Bail reform" remains the center of tension. The “cashless" bail system enacted in 2019, with mandatory release in most misdemeanor and nonviolent felony cases, has been tweaked before. Last year’s changes were intended to give judges more leeway to set bail on repeat offenders, as well as those who have violated orders of protection and those with a gun history.

Now the governor, once again tilting cautiously toward law enforcement, wants to remove the requirement that judges impose the “least restrictive” conditions to assure a return to court.

“We looked at this very thoughtfully and realized what judges are telling us [is] that they don’t have the clarity that they need to have when someone’s before them and meets the standards of being bail eligible, in particular,” Hochul said earlier this month. “You know, what criteria do they use to determine whether or not to impose bail or not or let someone out, impose bail or remand?”

But Democrats who lead both legislative houses have refused to accept what police and prosecutors insist is a clear link between fewer defendants held before trial and a turnstile system that has repeat low-level offenders back on the street shortly after arrest, enabling new transgressions.

“Can we just stop focusing so much on bail,” Heastie said after Hochul’s proposal was released, “and concentrate on the stuff that really drives crime?” New York City Mayor Eric Adams credibly sees that stance as evasive — and says he wants the NYPD to target approximately 1,700 people who, according to Adams, commit a big share of violent crimes.


The point is that there is a small, too-tolerated criminal population.

“We all agree that no one should be in jail simply because they can’t afford to post bail,” Adams has said. “But we should also agree that we cannot allow a small number of violent individuals to continue terrorizing our neighbors over and over again.”

Less controversially, but also sensibly, Hochul’s latest proposal touts $90 million in new funding partly for prosecutors to better meet tougher deadlines and higher standards for evidence discovery that some of them say is quickening the well-known revolving door for repeat offenders.

In Albany parlance, bail reform became a catchall label to describe other changes. One raised the age for which young defendants can be treated as adults — which Hochul says can also use some calibration. She also says Kendra’s Law, allowing courts to order mandatory mental-health care for people disposed to endanger themselves or others, should be strengthened.

Exact measures must be negotiated in good faith. But standoffs over what the statistics show about bail-reform impacts only delay progress. If bail reform and the Raise the Age and discovery changes aren’t creating problems sufficient to change the majority's minds about modifying them, then what's their plan?

“We are missing information regarding uncharged cases, Family Court caseloads and details regarding rearrested offenders,” State Sen. Anthony Palumbo (R-New Suffolk) said after a recent hearing on the topic. But, he said, "I’m afraid the progressives will conflate the statistics to argue their policies are not responsible.”

Regardless of who's to blame, steps are needed to assure victims of even lesser offenses that the system is on their side, not the miscreants'.

Although crime is largely driven by long-term national trends, it won’t do for the Assembly and Senate majorities to simply ignore critics. The people have reason to worry, and to look to their state Capitol for solutions right away.

MEMBERS OF THE EDITORIAL BOARD are experienced journalists who offer reasoned opinions, based on facts, to encourage informed debate about the issues facing our community.

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