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NYC Mayor Reverses Course on Bail Reform

New York Mayor Bill de Blasio waves hands in frustration as he speaks passionately about bail reform's recent consequences

The so-called ‘bail reform’ movement of the past decade has hit some significant roadblocks in the past couple of years. It began with Alaska rolling back its bail reform law after it turned the Great White North into the Wild Wild West. Right here in Jefferson County, Arapahoe County and Denver County people had the good sense to recognize the bail reform snake oil salesmen for what they were/are and send them packing.

One of the biggest blows suffered by the anti-bail bonds extremists came late last year when the non-profit behind the bail reform movement - the Arnold Foundation - changed its name to distance itself from its mistakes and proclaimed a new bail reform strategy going forward. One that, remarkably, did not include their own risk assessment algorithm, which they now deemed to be flawed. But none of these can match the U-turn recently pulled by New York’s mayor.

The High Price of Bail Bonds Reform

Since bail was effectively eliminated in New York on January 1st, the state has experienced a sharp uptick in crime. And people know precisely why their streets have suddenly reverted to being criminal playgrounds after years of relative safety and security. The cause is the state’s new anti-bail catch and release system. New York City Police Commissioner Dermot Shea acknowledged exactly that when he said: "There has been a dramatic increase in crime by people who are being let out of Rikers Island (jail)."

Burglaries, car thefts, assaults, robbery, vandalism and more are all up sharply. As is the rate of recidivism. And the people are justifiably angry. After all, bail reform was sold as a way to ensure innocent poor people were allowed to return to the loving, law-abiding arms of their families. Not a way for career criminals to increase productivity. But that’s exactly what’s happened. Just as those opposed to eliminating the bondsman said it would.

He Supported Bail Reform Until He Didn’t

Now, Mayor de Blasio is a political animal. Of that there can be little doubt. After all, you don’t get to be mayor of New York City if you don’t have some decent political skills and instincts. And what the good mayor’s skills and instincts are telling him these days is that he’d better get out in front of the bail reform debacle before it spells the end of his political career. As a result, the mayor bit the bullet and suddenly announced last week that he is opposed to New York’s bail reform legislation in its current form. He wants changes and he wants them now.

“There is a chance now for the legislature to get it right” he said. Pointing the finger away from himself toward Albany and Governor Andrew Cuomo. According to the mayor “they” did some good things with reform but it’s not enough. By using the word ‘they’ de Blasio distanced himself from the whole mess and laid the groundwork for some revisionist history. The idea is to reposition himself as ‘the voice of reason’ or some such thing. And divert attention from the fact that he was a stalwart champion of the current bail reform law up until last week.

de Blasio’s Change of Heart

As we mentioned there has been a sharp increase in crime since New York State began releasing just about anyone from custody without bail if they promise to show up in court. Vandalism, burglary, assault and more are all on the increase. And with taxpayers beginning to grumble about the sorry state of things mayor de Blasio has been forced to acknowledge defeat and tack away from the mess.

And a multifaceted mess it is. For instance, the city’s Jewish community has also experienced the downside of eliminating bail bonding. Most visibly in the form of one 30-year-old Tiffany Harris. In the span of just 5 short days, Ms. Harris was arrested 3 times for a series of assaults on Jewish residents of the city and a social worker.

The first incident occurred in the Crown Heights neighborhood of Brooklyn. Ms. Harris approached 3 Orthodox Jewish women, began screaming "F___ you Jews" and proceeded to slap each of the women in the face before police arrived and arrested her. She was released without bail the next day. Less than a day later she was arrested for punching a Jewish woman in the face in Prospect Heights. Again, she was released without bail. Just 2 days later, she physically assaulted a social worker she had been ordered to see and was arrested yet again.

Angry Constituents, Uncomfortable Meetings

Several days after the third event de Blasio showed up in Brooklyn to try and reassure Jewish residents that everything was fine and dandy. But they wound up giving him an earful. Keep in mind, politicians tend to hate uncomfortable encounters with constituents. They prefer to show up, pose for a few pictures, shake a few hands and be on their way. So it’s likely this very tense encounter with members of the Jewish community finally convinced the mayor that he had to do or say something.

It’s impossible at this stage to tell if the mayor is serious, or if he’s just trying to create distance between himself and a hot political potato. But one thing seems certain: if New York lawmakers don’t rethink bail reform a lot of them may wind up out of work next year.

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