Bail Reform Questioned in Wake of Looter Arrests

A Foot Locker put up plywood as a preventative measure against looters. Photo by Clarissa Sosin

Many of the alleged looters arrested over the past few nights during the George Floyd protests have been or will be released back onto the streets after their arraignments leading local New  York City lawmakers to question whether or not the state’s recent bail reforms will help or hinder the ongoing unrest.

City Council Member Bob Holden

“The shortfalls of our New York’s bail reform policies have been completely exposed over the past few days,” said Council Member Robert Holden (D-Glendale, Maspeth, Middle Village, Ridgewood, Woodhaven, Woodside).

According to the New York Post, more than 700 people were arrested for looting over the past few nights and many will face felony burglary charges. Felony burglary charges, however, do not qualify for bail under the new bail reform laws. Once the people arrested are arraigned, they will be released back out into the community. 

 “It’s mind boggling that a felony burglary charge carries no weight anymore,” Holden said. “If the looters are ‘outside agitators,’ what incentive will they have to return to the city for court? If the looters are from the city, what’s stopping them from doing it again the next day? For every one looter, there are dozens more who are not apprehended, and they are only being emboldened by these shortsighted policies.”

Some of the looting has occurred near protests condemning the killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis by a police officer and calling for police reform. Protesters said that the looting has nothing to do with their message, and that the looters are opportunists who are availing themselves of the political unrest to take advantage of the situation. 

Queens District Attorney Melinda Katz
City Council Member Eric Ulrich

So far in Queens only two people have been arrested for protesting. They were issued Desk Appearance Tickets, according to Queens District Attorney Melinda Katz’s Office said. No one in Queens has been arrested for looting.

Katz’s office did not respond to questions regarding the new bail reform laws.

 “While I support every American’s freedom of speech and right to protest, these riots are destroying our communities and small businesses,” said Council Member Eric Ulrich (R-Belle Harbor, Breezy Point, Broad Channel, Howard Beach, Lindenwood, Neponsit, Ozone Park, Richmond Hill, Rockaway Park, Roxbury, South Ozone Park, West Hamilton Beach, Woodhaven). 

“They will continue to wreck havoc,” he said referring to the releases.

City Councilman Rory Lancman

But City Council Member Rory Lancman (D-Kew Gardens Hills, Pomonok, Electchester, Fresh Meadows, Hillcrest, Jamaica Estates, Briarwood, Parkway Village, Jamaica Hills, Jamaica), chair of the Council’s Committee on the Justice System, said that prior to bail reform, looting charges rarely resulted in bail. 

“So ‘bail reform’ likely had little impact on those caught looting being released,” Lancman said. 

The state’s new bail reform laws prohibits judges from setting bail on all misdemeanors and most nonviolent felonies. It went into effect on Jan. 1 and immediately faced blowback from law enforcement agencies, district attorneys and law and order politicians who said it went too far. In April, lawmakers tweaked the bill to include a few more offenses not eligible under the original law such as burglary in the 2nd degree, sex trafficking, and any felony committed by a “persistant felony offender.”

Lancman pointed out that protests are chaotic and many people get swept up and arrested. Many of the charges from past protests ended up being dropped, he said. 

“It would be grossly inappropriate to lock people up for months at a time because they cannot afford bail, based on arrests and charges made amidst the chaos and confusion that we are seeing on our street,” he said.