Almost one year ago, I wrote regarding the need for serious reform to New York state’s laws on bail and pretrial detention, which became effective in 2020. I called for judicial discretion to be restored to the process in order to end the damage caused by these laws. Unfortunately, my calls as well as those of many New Yorkers who share this opinion were not heeded, and the state Legislature failed to take substantive action on repairing this extremely flawed law.
Discussing inaction on bail and other related criminal justice “reforms” is not merely an exercise in “I told you so” or scoring political points; when elected leaders fail to act, it is often the communities and constituents they serve that pay the price. With respect to bail reform, I recently read two stories that indicate these laws are having a serious, lasting impact on our community in Albany County generally and the Town of Colonie specifically. Last week, the Office of District Attorney David Soares indicated significant attrition within the office due to the lack of resources and crippling obligations put on their office. These staff losses include individuals with more than two decades of service — as well as five prosecutors since just last month — which represent valuable experience that cannot be easily replaced. The loss of experienced staff within the District Attorney’s office, simply put, makes our county less safe. Locally, according to reporting earlier this month in The Spotlight, crime in the Town of Colonie is up nearly 20 percent. That means 400 more residents in the Town of Colonie became victims of a crime due to the 2019 reforms. This is an unacceptable figure. The town’s police chief, Mike Woods, indicates that many offenders have been arrested and released multiple times within the span of days or even hours.
Between the clear increase in crime rates in our communities and the loss of those experienced civil servants who would have been best equipped to prosecute them, our county is unquestionably less safe due to the criminal justice reforms which became law in 2020. Thus far, Democrats in the state Legislature have stubbornly refused to make any substantive changes to how these laws work, instead opting to pass off minor changes and slightly altered list of crimes eligible for bail as real change. This stubbornness represents a failure of leadership and an abdication of responsibility. The perpetrators of crime now have more protection and rights than victims. This law has turned our judicial system upside down.
There is perhaps no better example of the inversion of our criminal justice system than the recent assassination attempt on U.S. Rep Lee Zeldin, the Republican nominee for governor. On July 21, a knife-wielding assailant attempted to attack the congressman but was fortunately stopped by him and then taken to the ground. What is unfortunate, however, is that before the end of the day, this deranged individual was released back into the community and is free to be a harm to others or possibly himself. If a sitting congressman and candidate for our state’s highest office isn’t safe, none of us are.
There is an alternative path to the one currently being followed by the state. Several initiatives have been proposed to the state Legislature by Republicans such as a bipartisan measure carried by Sen. Jim Tedisco and Assemblyman Angelo Santabarbara that would allow greater judicial discretion in setting bail especially when considering prior convictions, failures to appear in court, or other arrests while awaiting trial. Another measure proposed by Republicans in the state Legislature, sponsored by Sen. Joseph Griffo, would scale back the worst excesses of discovery reform by allowing witnesses of a crime to decide whether or not their personal information is disclosed to individuals accused to having committed a crime. Democratic leaders in the Senate and Assembly are free to throw their support behind these measures and pass them if they wish, and I urge them to do so instead of holding them in committee.
New York state’s Democratic Party leadership has a clear choice. They can either keep supporting policies under the guise of “reform” that harm our communities and ultimately make them less safe, or they can do the right thing and embrace real reform that prioritizes keeping New Yorkers of all kinds safe from violent crime. If our leaders don’t choose to do the right thing for the people of our state, it’s fair to question whether or not they should remain as our leaders.
Albany County Legislature