Long Island Congressman Tom Suozzi, with an eye for the Governor’s seat, today challenged Gov. Kathy Hochul to reign in Manhattan’s new District Attorney Alvin Bragg who has signaled a soft approach to fighting crime.
“Crime is a big problem, and the governor is not talking on controversial issues,” said Suozzi at a news conference. “She needs to take a stand.”
Bragg issued a memo last week for non-prosecution of some minor crimes and misdemeanors and no jail time for others.
It exempts from prosecution marijuana, prostitution, obscenity, trespass, resisting arrest, traffic violation, driving without a license, and obstruction of governmental administration except when that offense involves felonies.
Prosecution will be deferred for low-level drug dealing, residential and commercial burglaries, and non-firearm weapons possession, and suspects of such low-level crimes won’t go to jail before trial.
Like other reform-minded DAs across the country, Bragg is getting a push back, including from cops. His plan could define this year’s race for governor, with both Suozzi and Hochul both working hard to get their party’s nod against their eventual Republican opponent.
On Friday, new New York City Police Commissioner Keechant Sewell expressed concerns about what the DA’s memo means to the safety of police officers and the public in general.
Today, Suozzi chastised Bragg, saying the rookie DA cannot pick and choose which crimes to prosecute, beyond the regular exercise of discretion based on available resources. Suozzi, who represents New York’s 3rd district that includes parts of Queens, Nassau, and Suffolk, said Gov. Hochul should use her constitutional authority to remove Bragg from office if the DA can’t do his job.
He said the soft-on-crime approach by Bragg would create inconsistencies in criminal justice administration between the city’s five boroughs and asked the governor to have a meeting with all of the city’s five district attorneys to ensure they follow the same prosecutorial standard.
State-wide, a bail reform enacted two years ago has caused problems and needed to be revisited, he said. The 2019 state legislation, which took effect Jan. 1, 2020, ended cash bail for many low-level crimes and misdemeanors in New York, particularly for those who couldn’t afford to pay.
Unlike in other states, New York’s new bail law doesn’t allow judges to use their discretion in determining whether to release a suspect upon arraignment. This is an issue Mayor Eric Adams and others have also said should be revisited.
Suozzi said judges should be allowed to look at the backgrounds of suspects before allowing them out since at least one study shows a small percentage of those released get rearrested for violent crimes. He said there has been an uptick in crime since that law passed.
“People are concerned about crime,” he said. “People are concerned about quality of life and enforcing the law is a big part of it.”
Suozzi said his plan to fight crime includes prevention and intervention and those who commit crimes must be held accountable.
George Joshua Orwel, a veteran journalist and a professor at CUNY, is a contributor to PoliticsNY.com.