It takes two to tango, but three is a crowd, as Gov. Hochul and Mayor Adams are discovering. They want to work together to reduce crime, but Manhattan’s radical new district attorney, Alvin Bragg, has other ideas.
His vow to go easy on nearly all suspects except those charged with murder, domestic violence and sexual assault will undermine the law-enforcement push by Hochul and Adams. They will not be able to curb the out-of-control violence if Manhattan is a sanctuary borough.
“Time and time again, New Yorkers tell me that they don’t feel safe,” Hochul said in her state of the state speech. “They don’t like what they see on streets and things feel different now, and not always for the better.”
But she and Adams can forget about changing that feeling if Bragg follows through with his compassion for criminals. The adage that “if you can’t do the time, don’t do the crime” falls flat if there are no consequences.
Because Manhattan is New York to most of the world, what happens there will define the entire city. Thus, the aim of winning back tourists and the trust of those who fled to Florida and elsewhere as crime surged could be toast.
Some city prosecutors already went down the soft-on-crime path, but Bragg is stretching the idea beyond the breaking point.
That’s the conclusion of new top cop Keechant Sewell, who responded to Bragg’s policy memo to his staff with a blistering one of her own. In a missive to NYPD troops, she accused the DA of putting cops and the public in danger, writing that Bragg “effectively decriminalizes much of the conduct that New Yorkers are asking police to address.”
That’s the heart of the matter. Bragg is misreading the prevailing public mood, which calls for cops to do more, not less.
Indeed, in a sign of how far out of step he is, online readers of The New York Times were overwhelmingly critical of his plans in Friday night responses to the paper’s story. The Times endorsed Bragg during the campaign, so the one-sided reaction among its readers was especially revealing.
That is one element of a situation peculiar even for Gotham. In another, Adams and Bragg, both black Democrats, share many of the same supporters.
Adams got 219,000 votes in Manhattan, or about 80 percent of those cast in the general election, his highest mark in the city.
On the same day, Bragg won 182,000 votes, or 83 percent of the Manhattan ballots cast in his contest.
The large overlap comes despite the fact that their clashing views were well known. Adams, a former captain in the NYPD, was elected on a promise of stopping the crime madness and bringing back undercover anti-gun units.
He and Hochul quickly pivoted from the childish feuding of their predecessors, Bill de Blasio and Andrew Cuomo, and met several times to map out a shared agenda. They say they’ll work together to make subways safer and are teaming up to roll back some progressive “reforms” that ended cash bail for most suspects and turned courthouses into revolving doors and streets into killing fields.
Bragg opposes virtually everything they stand for. He is against the anti-gun units, saying at his election-night party he would address illegal guns with unspecified “new tools.” He also said getting more people out of jail was an urgent priority, citing a “humanitarian crisis” at Rikers Island, the Times reported.
Yet the details he laid out in his staff memo appear to go beyond his campaign rhetoric. There would be few exceptions to his policy of avoiding incarceration in most cases and they would require “extraordinary circumstances,” he wrote.
The memo also warned aides to consider the “impacts of incarceration” and whether having been in prison makes it too hard for released convicts to get housing and jobs. He also told them to consider racial disparities in deciding whether to prosecute.
Victims were an afterthought, if that.
Bragg also emphasized he wants to downgrade many cases, no matter what charges police make. For example, robbers who use guns or other deadly weapons will be prosecuted only for petty larceny, a misdemeanor, if no victims were seriously injured. Normally, armed robbery is a felony.
(Bragg, speaking at an Al Sharpton gathering Saturday, stressed that armed robbery would still be prosecuted as such, which would seem to contradict the memo.)
Suspects with rap sheets who are caught with weapons other than guns will have charges reduced to misdemeanors, his instructions say. Normally, criminal possession of a weapon is a felony.
And suspects charged with burglary of businesses in mixed-use buildings and storage areas will also have charges downgraded. Those who resist arrest generally would not be charged at all, a particular concern to the new police commissioner.
Beyond New York, Bragg’s plan will send political shock waves across the nation. Adams’ victory on his anti-crime agenda got the attention of the White House, which was shaken by polling showing that many voters blame Dems for the “defund the police” movement and the alarming rise in crime.
At least 12 major cities set homicide records last year, including Philadelphia, Indianapolis, Baton Rouge, La., Austin, Texas and Louisville, Ky. That followed a national jump in murder of 30% in 2020, the largest single-year increase in 60 years.
“Nobody’s getting arrested anymore,” Robert Boyce, a retired chief of detectives for the NYPD, told ABC News. “People are getting picked up for gun possession and they’re just let out over and over again.”
Citing FBI data, ABC says the number of arrests nationwide in 2020 was 7.6 million, a decline of 24 percent from 2019 and the lowest total in 25 years.
In response, Dems are trying to craft new messages in advance of the midterm elections. President Biden seems to have scrapped demonizing talk of “systemic racism” in law enforcement and instead vows to send federal money to help cities hire more cops.
Those are good starts. Now somebody should tell Alvin Bragg, who clearly didn’t get that memo.