The new Manhattan district attorneys soft-on-crime policies are showing signs of becoming a major liability for Democrats posturing as the party of public safety ahead of the 2022 elections, amid growing opposition and a police unions call for Governor Hochul to intervene by appointing a special prosecutor.
Criticism has been mounting from community members, business leaders, and even fellow Democrats over Alvin Braggs lenient policies. His approach also puts him at odds with Ms. Hochul and Mayor Adams, who have shown signs of forging an alliance over their tough-on-crime stance that is not shared by the left wing of their party.
Other Democrats have raised doubts about the legality of Mr. Braggs proposed strategy. Bragg cant pick and choose what laws not to enforce. You cant say, Im not going to enforce the law, Congressman Tom Suozzi, who is challenging Ms. Hochul in the gubernatorial primary, told the New York Post.
Although district attorneys have discretion over whether to prosecute certain individuals, its an open question as to whether they can choose to not prosecute entire sections of law, according to Richard Aborn, president of the Citizens Crime Commission.
Earlier this month, the district attorneys office announced it will stop prosecuting trespassing, fare-evasion, and other non-criminal offenses, while also offering diversion for misdemeanors and downgrading certain felonies.
The Detectives Endowment Association is calling for Ms. Hochul to appoint a special prosecutor if Mr. Bragg refuses to change his policies.
Bragg is green-lighting certain felony crimes, not to mention lesser, quality-of- life crimes, offering no consequences for the perpetrators at all, Paul DiGiacomo, president of the union, said.
The special prosecutor proposed by the union would prosecute offenses that Mr. Braggs office is saying it will not or has promised to downgrade to lesser charges, including certain instances of armed robbery as well possession of non-firearm weapons.
Such an appointment would fall well within the governors power, according to Mr. Aborn. Either the governor or the appellate division of the state supreme court have the power to appoint such a special prosecutor.
What the DEA and others are saying is that if District Attorney Bragg is going to refuse to prosecute entire areas of the law, it is incumbent upon the governor to appoint someone who will, Mr. Aborn said.
As for the likelihood of the governor appointing a special prosecutor, Mr. Aborn said it would depend on the amount of public pressure put on the district attorney. Governor Hochuls office has not responded to requests for comment.
Advocates of police reform and social justice, on the other hand, believe that such an appointment would be undemocratic and is unlikely to actually happen.
In a desperate effort to reassert a criminalization model of drug control, the DEA is engaging in blatant political grandstanding that goes against the broader tide calling for an end to the failed drug war, Alex Vitale, a professor at Brooklyn College and author of The End of Policing, said.
I don’t see any situation in which the governor will agree to this profoundly anti-democratic intervention, he continued.
Previous attempts by police unions to intervene in law enforcement policy questions have not fared well. One effort followed a federal judges finding that the citys stop, question, and frisk policy allowing police to stop and search anyone they found suspicious was a violation of peoples Fourth and Fourteenth Amendment rights.
The city sought to appeal the case in 2013 but dropped it when Mayor Bloomberg left office. The Patrolmens Benevolent Association sought to keep the appeal alive and defend the police department as a party in the case.
The union claimed it had the right to intervene because the ruling declaring stop-and-frisk unconstitutional, by damaging police officers reputations, ultimately constrained the unions rights in the collective bargaining process.
The riders of the Second Circuit in 2014 rejected the unions request. They ruled that allowing the union to intervene would essentially condone a collateral attack on the democratic process and could erode the legitimacy of decisions made by the democratically elected representatives of the people.
Police unions did not respond to requests for comment.
The detective unions latest request for a special prosecutor may still have life in it.
It’s too soon to know it depends on how the new district attorney further explains his policies because there is a lot of misinformation out there and it depends how much of a cry there is for a special prosecutor, Mr. Aborn said.
Public pressure is likely to increase. A recent Manhattan Institute survey found that 21 percent of New York City residents considered public safety their top priority. This was outpaced only by the economy, at 22 percent, and was followed by race relations, at 12 percent.
Another poll from the Manhattan Institute found that 66 percent of New Yorkers perceived crime to be on the rise in their area, thus showing a lessening appetite for policing leniency.
Saturdays death of an Asian woman pushed in front of a subway train by a homeless man has further inflamed fears of crime and disorder.
Although Ms. Hochul has stayed silent on where she stands on the issue of appointing a special prosecutor, there are signs that the district attorney is aware of the criticism.
Maybe I had a comma out of place, maybe I didnt use the exact right words, but the urgency of now didnt start the conversation, so we started it, Mr. Bragg said of his controversial memo.
And it may be a long conversation, he continued Sunday at Abyssinian Baptist Church in Harlem, saying he is harboring no illusions that the storm will end soon.
Image: A woman rides a subway train in the Queens borough of New York, July 31, 2013. A recent survey found that 21 percent of New York City residents considered public safety their top priority. Reuters/Eric Thayer