Manhattan DA Alvin Bragg clarifies “confusion” on crime policies

Manhattan District Attorney-elect Alvin Bragg celebrates his victory in Harlem on Nov. 2.
Photo by Kevin Duggan

Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg Friday walked back the memo he released last month to his office staff at the beginning of his term; particularly his policy that lowered the severity of armed robbery.

Bragg faced criticism from not only the public, but many politicians, and was regarded by the New York Post, who first published the Jan. 3 memo, as “soft on crime.” 

The memo he released Feb. 4 returns some charges to their original severity. All of this is occurring at the same time as Mayor Eric Adam’s decision to bring in more police, stronger sentences, and sentences for offenders under the age of 18, in order to combat the gun violence crisis in New York City. 

“As I emphasized in my remarks to the office, you were hired for your keen judgement, and I want you to use that judgement,” he said in his new memo. “The January 3rd memorandum was intended to provide ADAs [Assistant District Attorneys] with a framework for how to approach cases in the best interest of safety and justice. Our collective experience, however, has been that the Memorandum has been a source of confusion, rather than clarity.”

The confusion, however, is not that ADAs did not know what to charge armed robbers, but that he encouraged them not to armed robbers with felonies. That doesn’t bode well under an Adams administration. 

In the new memorandum, Bragg writes that there are three things from his initial meeting with staff that he wants to now memorialize, to seemingly squash the debate. 

  1. The famous Jan. 3 memorandum did not create any “rights, substantive or procedural, in favor of any person, organization or party.” And it doesn’t limit the lawful prosecutorial process that his ADAs will carry out. 
  2. Commercial robbery with a gun or a knife is a felony. If there are situations without a threat of physical harm, his office will assess the charges.
  3. The default in gun cases is felony prosecution. “Gun possession cases are a key part of our plan for public safety,” Bragg wrote. This means assisting the state and local charge of tracing the sources of illegal guns, also called the ‘iron pipeline.’
  4. “Violence against police officers will not be tolerated.”

These admissions will hardly provide reason for critics to walk back their own assessments of his policy. The memo instructed prosecutors to steer away from jail time for crimes like robberies, assaults and gun possession, which won him support from many progressives. It focuses more on jail time for very serious crimes at time where New York City’s jails are proven unsafe and being investigated by the press for inhumane practices. 

At the time of the first memo’s release, Police Commissioner Keechant Sewell said in an email that she was “very concerned about the implications to your safety as police officers, the safety of the public and justice for the victims.”

This new memo from Bragg could be a result of his meeting with Sewell on Jan. 11, and provides a framework for collaboration between his office and City Hall.