Manhattan District Attorney Backtracks on Controversial Crime Policies

Manhattan District Attorney Backtracks on Controversial Crime Policies
Alvin Bragg speaks during a Get Out the Vote rally at a Philip Randolph Square in Harlem in New York City on Nov. 1, 2021. (Michael M. Santiago/Getty Images)
Naveen Athrappully

Democrat Alvin Bragg took over as the Manhattan District Attorney on Jan. 1 and soon introduced criminal policies that attracted criticism for being too soft on crime. A month into his office, Bragg is now backtracking on policies, presenting a tougher stance on crime.

In his “Day One” memorandum issued after assuming the post, Bragg stated that the District Attorney’s office would no longer consider resisting arrest, fare evasion, and other nonviolent crimes for prosecution.

In addition, prosecutors were asked to consider armed robbery carried out against commercial institutions as misdemeanor petty larceny provided there is no risk of physical harm. Bragg insisted that his newly revamped policies will make the region “safer.”

The proposed rules were heavily criticized, with New York City police commissioner Keechant Sewell warning that the measures will invite violence against police officers. They will also damage the relationship between officers and members of the local community they are obliged to protect, Sewell said.

On Jan. 21, police officer Jason Rivera was shot along with his colleague while on duty. At his funeral, Rivera’s wife blamed Bragg and his new policies, saying that the system “continues to fail us.”

Meanwhile, the head of NYPD’s largest union pointed out that officers have no interest in trying to enforce laws that district attorneys will not prosecute.

Facing mounting pressure, Bragg updated his policies. In a letter sent to staff on Feb. 4, the district attorney said that violence against police officers “will not be tolerated.” Anyone who tries to harm an officer will be prosecuted, he promised. Bragg also admitted that his “Day One” memorandum had caused confusion among people.

“A commercial robbery with a gun will be charged as a felony, whether or not the gun is operable, loaded, or a realistic imitation. A commercial robbery at knifepoint, or by other weapon that creates a risk of physical harm, will be charged as a felony … In retail thefts that do not involve a risk of physical harm, the Office will continue to assess the charges based on all of the aggravating and mitigating circumstances presented,” the letter said.

Republican Joe Borelli, city council minority leader, stated that Bragg must have realized the jeopardy officers would face if his Day One policies would have been enforced. He found it shameful that Bragg was the “last person to realize” that the public wants criminals behind bars, reported the NY Post.

“We hope this updated memo filters down to the streets the way the first one did because gun-toting criminals definitely believe they have a safe haven in Manhattan … DA Bragg needs to keep sending the message that they won’t get a pass, and his staff needs to back that message up in the courtroom,” Police Benevolent Association President Patrick Lynch said in a statement.

Manhattan’s assault and robbery crime rates tend to be higher than the overall rate of the country. Out of 100,000 residents, Manhattan has an annual assault rate of 378.4 and a robbery rate of 228.3, compared to the countrywide rates of 282.7 and 135.5 respectively, according to Niche.