Bail Reform Laws “Absolutely Need to Change,” NYPD Commissioner Sewell Said
By Yehudit Garmaise
As police officers struggle to arrest the perpetrators of gruesome murders, numerous stabbings, and the many random acts of violence that increased by 57% in February in New York City, NYPD Commissioner Keechant Sewell insists the state’s current bail law “absolutely needs to change.”
In 2019, when former Gov. Andrew Cuomo signed New York state’s bail reform into law, he eliminated cash bail for most misdemeanor and non-violent felonies in the name of fighting systemic racism.
Eliminating bail, advocates of the bill said, would prevent only people without money for bail from staying stuck in jail while they await trial for non-violent offenses.
Critics of the bail reform, however, say that the new system quickly returns repeat offenders to the streets to commit their crimes to new victims: as has happened often with many perpetrators of anti-Semitic hate crimes in Brooklyn and elsewhere.
When homeless suspect Assamad Nash, 25, for instance, killed 35-year-old Christina Yuna Lee, by stabbing her 40 times after following her into her Chinatown apartment on Feb. 15, the same day that Mayor Eric Adams travelled to Albany to promote changes to criminal justice reforms, state legislators were surprisingly non-sympathetic to his pleas.
The mayor told legislators that Nash, who had three open court cases, 12 arrests in the last 10 years, and was on supervised release for a Jan. 6 vandalism charge, was a “poster person for a failing [bail reform] system, but Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins (D), appeared unmoved.
Move to change New York’s bail reform is part of a “repetitive Republican national coordinated campaign of fear,” Stewart-Cousins said after her meeting with the mayor.
Stewart-Cousins denied that New York’s crime levels are the result of problems with bail reform, which she dismissed as, “an easy talking point: as though no bail for misdemeanors or nonviolent felonies is somehow related to the spike.”
Under the current law, judges are not granted the discretion to determine whether arrested criminals continue to pose threats to society.
Adams and Sewell say, however, that lawmakers should grant judges the discretion, before they set bail, to determines how dangerous criminals are to return to the streets.
Criminals’ “dangerousness,” however, would be too subjective to measure, Stewart-Cousins said last month. Other top New York Democrats told Adams that major changes to the state’s bail law are not going to gain enough support to pass.
“We did assure the mayor that we would continue to work collaboratively,” Stewart-Cousins said on WNYC in an interview. “But making that change to bail reform would "exacerbate a problem we're trying to alleviate.”
“We can keep most of the important elements of the reform, but there are absolutely some things that need to be adjusted,” Sewell told John Catsimatidis today.