Column: Future of criminal justice in NYC up in the air

The unfortunate passing of Queens District Attorney Richard Brown last week was a stark reminder of how far left Democrats in New York have tilted on criminal justice issues.

Specifically, Brown, a Democrat, boasted the highest conviction rate of the five boroughs. This is an accomplishment to be proud of by most. After all, our justice system consists of our police arresting those that break the law and district attorneys fully prosecuting them.

This was part of New York City’s renaissance from the “bad old days” when there were more than 2,100 murders in 1991, when Brown was first appointed to his position by former Gov. Mario Cuomo, to fewer than 300 last year. Brown, who served as DA for almost 28 years, understood his role and performed it with distinction.

Unfortunately, the vast majority of today’s Democrats who have total control of our city and state government, have a far different view of how the criminal justice system should work. To them, the goal is to protect those who commit crimes over their victims and law-abiding New Yorkers. This is their criminal justice “reform.”

Indeed, because Brown had the audacity to actually do his job and put criminals behind bars, the new radical left in New York City was coming after him even if he did not announce in January that he would not seek re-election this year. He would have faced multiple opponents in a primary because he was tough on crime and never signed on to the criminal bill of rights syndrome afflicting many other local district attorneys and lawmakers.

Brown’s common sense approach to running his office included creating a domestic violence bureau, a Treatment Intervention program to help addicts, fighting human trafficking, and, yes, prosecuting and putting away those who commit crimes. In contrast, Brooklyn DA Eric Gonzalez recently announced his own Criminal Protection Plan or so-called “Justice 2020 Initiative.” This instructs his prosecutors to seek “non-jail resolutions at every juncture of a case.”

To be fair, Gonzalez did say that “most often” prison will be sought for murderers and rapists. This is great, but other lawbreakers don’t have to fear prison time. This policy of coddling criminals is just a continuation of the softer approach to crime being adopted by other DAs and legislators.

Think about it this way — if you are considering stealing a few steaks from a supermarket, breaking into a home or car, violating an order of protection, or menacing straphangers on a subway, you must first get caught. Then, even if you are arrested by the police, you know you will not face jail time. So, the odds are stacked in your favor, so why not do the bad deeds? One does not need an Ivy League degree to figure out if there is not a threat of serious consequences, more will feel emboldened to commit crimes.

Several NYPD sources in Brooklyn told me that even before Gonzalez announced his new initiative, not sending perps to jail has been the norm. These officers said one of their new toughest jobs is explaining to victims why those who committed a crime against them are not going away.

Not surprisingly, the de Blasio administration just announced that the prison population in the four new borough jails that will replace Rikers Island will be sharply reduced from current levels. He is not a fortune teller, so how can he know that less people will commit crimes? The way he knows there will be less people in jail is because the mission of most city and state Democrats is to keep those that violate laws out of them. To hell with the victims and law-abiding New Yorkers.

We have already decriminalized most quality-of-life crimes, have stopped prosecuting those who beat the fare on buses and subways, and DAs like Gonzalez and those running to replace Brown in Queens have announced that they seek to send less criminals to jail.

It will only get worse, because as part of the recently passed state budget, another piece of the progressive criminal protection plan was included. Effective in January 2020, cash bail will be eliminated, including for felony offenses. One of the few common sense Democrats left, Staten Island DA Michael McMahon said, “The actions they [the state legislature] have taken will put victims in danger and I quite frankly do find the whole package unfathomable and outrageous…many people accused with violent crimes, serious felonies are going to be back on the street.”

We should not have to wait for the inevitable rise in crime that will occur with these lunacy policies for lawmakers to return to normalcy with criminal justice policies. And for district attorneys to again realize that their role is to prosecute criminals and not act as their second defense attorney to keep them out of jail. DA Brown always understood this.

Bob Capano has worked for Brooklyn Republican and Democrat elected officials.