Local Police Chiefs Feel Bail Reform Escalates Risk

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by Tom Pedulla – 

New York State’s new controversial bail reform law is intended to avoid incarcerating those who await trial for misdemeanors and non-violent crimes simply because they cannot afford to pay bail. But local police chiefs believe the law is resulting in revolving door arrests while escalating security risks.

“You can see where society is in jeopardy with regard to the release of dangerous suspects who should be incarcerated until they either make bail or they can be deemed somewhat safe to being released back into society,” said Irvington Police Chief Michael Cerone, an executive officer with the Westchester County Chiefs of Police Association.

Under the new legislation, burglary is considered a non-violent crime, and that is raising concern. Tarrytown Police Chief John Barbelet pointed to the case involving Jonathan Martin, 27, a Sleepy Hollow resident. Martin, already facing a burglary charge in Tarrytown in December, was arrested in early January at a Peekskill home that bore evidence of forced entry. He allegedly entered the bedroom of a teenage girl who escaped and called Peekskill police.

After being released on his own recognizance following the second burglary charge, Martin allegedly smashed the glass door to the Peekskill police station, prompting yet another arrest. This time, he was charged with criminal mischief.

Barbelet noted circumstances surrounding the arrest of German Martinez, who had two prior felony convictions. Martinez is believed to be the person whose photo was widely circulated on social media as a suspect in a series of burglaries that alarmed residents of Tarrytown and elsewhere.

Law enforcement officials fear the bar has been lowered too far. “If that individual didn’t have those two prior felony convictions, we would charge him with five burglaries, and he is a suspect in 12 others, and he would have been released on an appearance ticket,” Barbelet said, referring to Martinez.

Other cases beyond Westchester are arousing concern. Gerod Woodberry was released after he was charged with robbing or attempting to rob four New York City banks. Less than four hours after he was set free, he was accused of holding up a bank in Brooklyn and leaving with approximately $1,000.

“The fundamental problem with bail reform is that judges have lost the authority to use their own discretion,” said Anthony Bueti, Sleepy Hollow’s police chief.

Governor Andrew Cuomo, during a recent address on the 2021 budget, indicated he is open to revisiting the issue.

“It’s not that you reform a system once and then you walk away,” he said. “You make changes in a system, it has consequences, and you have to understand those consequences.”

Cuomo described reform as an “ongoing process” and added, “We need to act on information and not hyperbole. Let’s understand the facts, understand the consequences, discuss it intelligently, rationally and in a sober way, and then let’s make the decisions we need to make. And we’ll do that as we move forward.”

Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins also indicated an openness to change, if that is deemed necessary. She said in a statement released to The Hudson Independent, “Change can be hard, but that does not mean we shouldn’t work to fix a broken justice system. As with all enacted legislation, we are monitoring how these reforms are being implemented, and we will continue to do so.

“These reforms were the result of discussions with stakeholders from all sides, and we are continuing to meet with all sides to determine how best to keep communities safe, save taxpayer money, and protect all New Yorkers’ constitutional rights.”

Cerone is convinced the elimination of bail for defendants charged with misdemeanors and non-violent crimes removed an important deterrent.

“If you’re just being charged and released, where are the deterrents?” Cerone said. “If we are going to have a revolving door here, where is the justice for the victim?”

Barbelet said simply, “It’s not working. It was rolled out too fast and too aggressively. Reform is usually a good thing. Things should be looked at and re-evaluated. But to do what the state did, it really has put some people in a precarious position.”

Manuel Guevara, Dobbs Ferry’s chief of police, could not be reached for comment.

Khalil Cumberbatch, of New Yorkers United for Justice, accused opponents of bail reform of “relying solely on fear, not fact.” He cautions it is premature to draw conclusions.

“We don’t have any real data or statistics right now that show how these reforms are working,” he said. “Right now, what the opposition has is anecdotal cases they can point to.”

Cumberbatch emphasized that there are massive savings for taxpayers when defendants are not incarcerated while they await trial and said the new legislation is “creating a more level playing field for people who don’t have access to means.”

According to Barbelet, law enforcement regards another element of the new legislation as even more onerous. It requires that all evidence be submitted to the district attorney within 15 days. Barbelet said that mandate will be costly because it requires the expense of hiring additional personnel while hindering other investigations.

Local authorities hope representatives of the district attorney and law enforcement will be included if the governor is, indeed, prepared to review bail reform.

“No one I’ve spoken to in law enforcement was ever consulted before this was put into place,” Barbelet said.

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