An upstate New York police department brazenly lied to the public when it claimed that bail reform was responsible for a judge’s decision to release a person without setting bail after being charged with first-degree rape.
An upstate New York police department brazenly lied to the public when it claimed that bail reform was responsible for a judge’s decision to release a person without setting bail after being charged with first-degree rape. Here is the clear truth: First degree rape – like all violent felonies and numerous non-violent felonies and misdemeanors – is eligible for bail in New York. This was true before bail reform and remains true today.
In a Facebook statement, the Johnson City police department (located outside Binghamton) attempted to support its false assertions by citing an unnamed New York Supreme Court judge, who told law enforcement that the local judge had “little choice but to release the suspect without bail.” This is patently false and underscores the desperation of the police and prosecutor-led movement to scare New Yorkers into supporting the repeal of bail reform, now proven through years of data to be an exceptionally successful public policy that has increased freedom and reduced taxpayer costs with no correlation to increases in crime.
Bail reform in New York only affected some low level offenses – misdemeanors and non-violent felonies. Judges can and do set bail for people charged with violent felonies, including first-degree rape. Bail reform did not change a judge’s discretion to set bail in violent felony cases.
Though the department considered its Facebook statement “part of [its] duty” to share the impact of bail reform, they instead lied and misled the public in suggesting bail reform was the reason the local judge did not have the ability to detain the person charged in this case pre-trial.
First, the Johnson City Police Department asserted that judges “cannot consider the seriousness of a particular crime” when making a decision on bail. In fact, judges must consider a range of factors bearing on the seriousness of a particular crime in making a bail decision – including the charge itself, whether the charge is alleged to have caused serious harm, a person’s criminal history, past violation of orders of protection, and possession or use of a gun – and are mandated to explain why the court is or is not setting bail.
The police department went further to claim judges cannot consider “the specific danger that a defendant poses to society.” “Dangerousness” has never been a standard for setting bail in New York, and the state definitively declined to adopt it in the 1970s – and for good reason. Allowing a judge’s (or algorithm’s) prediction of “dangerousness” to serve as a basis for holding someone in jail while they are presumed innocent has clearly yielded racist results based on data from jurisdictions that allow this practice.
It’s not just bail reform that the Facebook statement published by the Johnson City Police Department falsely attacks. The police department expresses their disdain for the Constitution and rule of law by complaining that public defenders in the county were funded by the state to provide access to counsel at first appearances when a judge will decide whether or not to set bail.
Finally, the department asserted that bail reform “makes it as difficult as possible” for law enforcement to “get these violent criminals off the streets.” Beyond the dehumanizing and reductionist language the Department used to describe New Yorkers who are presumed innocent, the statement suggests that people who are presumed innocent should have their liberties deprived based on allegations at the earliest stages of the case. We should celebrate due process, not attack it. Both before and after bail reform, fundamental constitutional principles that provided due process before someone who is presumed innocent can be detained pretrial were required, no matter the charge. Judges have always used their ample discretion – before and after bail reform – to set unaffordable bail when they can.
This statement by the Johnson City Police Department is just the latest example of police using bail reform as a scapegoat for their inability to prevent harm. Police spend just 4% of their time addressing “violent crime,” and, in any event, these efforts do not prevent future harm or address its root causes. The bizarre statements on the department’s Facebook page underscores how far police will go in using tragic instances of harm to attempt to roll back a law that promotes public health and safety.
This statement also underscores another problematic pattern – that of justice journalism and reporting on criminal justice. The police department’s Facebook statement served as the only source of information in a WBNG article. WBNG did not verify the accuracy of the department’s statement, nor did they quote any non-police sources. Unfortunately, this is not the first time WBNG has allowed the police to falsely link bail reform and instances of harm in the community.
Negligent and misleading reporting about bail reform in New York has directly caused massive changes in public opinion since bail reform passed. The result is rollbacks to a law that creates freedom and justice while saving taxpayers hundreds of millions of dollars.