The newly-appointed DA and commissioner have expressed differences in their approaches to reforming New York City’s criminal justice system to increase public safety
The policies of Manhattan’s new District Attorney have drawn criticism from a recently appointed New York Police commissioner who sent the department a mass email on Friday expressing disagreement with the prosecutor’s approach to reducing crime.
First reported by WNBC-TV, NYPD Commissioner Keechant Sewell wrote to officers that she is “very concerned” with new directives outlined in a 10-page memo DA Alvin Bragg sent to staff on Monday. The memo gave instructions to no longer prosecute several nonviolent misdemeanors including marijuana possession and fare evasion, pursuing incarceration only for the most severe crimes.
NEW YORK, NEW YORK – NOVEMBER 01: District attorney candidate Alvin Bragg speaks during a Get Out the Vote rally at A. Philip Randolph Square in Harlem on November 01, 2021 in New York City. Democratic NYC Mayoral candidate Eric Adams, state Attorney General and gubernatorial candidate Letitia James, Lt. Gov. Brian Benjamin, district attorney candidate Alvin Bragg and other party candidates along with district and community leaders attended the rally. (Photo by Michael M. Santiago/Getty Images)
“You go back 35 years, you saw sort of increased incarceration with not necessarily leading to public safety benefits, and then the most recent chapter in our city, pre-pandemic, of incarceration and crime both decreasing. That’s what we have to get back to,” Bragg told CBS New York on Wednesday.
While Sewell stated in her response that she believes changes can be made to improve the current state of the criminal justice system, she said she can foresee potential adverse outcomes from Bragg’s new policies that may harm the safety of law enforcement officials and the public.
“As you all have likely heard by now, this week, the Manhattan District Attorney made public new policies about what charges the office would decline to prosecute and or downgrade. I have studied these policies and I am very concerned about the implications to your safety as police officers, the safety of the public and justice for the victims,” Sewell’s email read. “I am making my concerns known to the Manhattan District Attorney and hope to have frank and productive discussions to try and reach more common ground.”
NEW YORK, NEW YORK – JANUARY 06: The new Police Commissioner Keechant Sewell joins Mayor Eric Adams and Governor Kathy Hochul at a news conference at a Manhattan subway station where a new plan was announced to fight homelessness in New York on January 06, 2022 in New York City. Among other initiatives, the city will increase the presence of outreach workers and police on subways to get homeless out of the trains and into shelters. According to the Coalition for the Homeless, New York City has reached the highest levels since the Great Depression of the 1930s. (Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images)
“I believe in criminal justice reform. I believe in reform that make sense when applied collaboratively,” Sewell wrote. “In that same vein, I am concerned about sweeping edicts that seem to remove discretion, not just from police officers, but also from Assistant District Attorneys regarding what crimes to prosecute and how to charge them.”
Bragg and Sewell were both sworn in to their respective positions on Jan. 1, each inauguration representing a historic first. Bragg is the first Black district attorney in Manhattan’s near-400 year history, and Sewell is the first woman — and Black woman — to lead the nation’s largest police force with upwards of 52,000 members.
New York City Mayor Eric Adams is another newly-seated city official who perhaps doesn’t see eye to eye with Bragg on his philosophy on public safety. Per CBS News, increased incarceration and bail for criminal offenders was among the policies campaigned for by Adams, a retired police officer.
Per the New York Times, a spokesperson for the DA’s office said on Saturday: “We share Commissioner Sewell’s call for frank and productive discussions to reach common ground on our shared mission to deliver safety and justice for all and look forward to the opportunity to clear up some misunderstandings.”
The statement continued to emphasize Bragg’s commitment to keeping residents safe, pushing back on Sewell’s interpretation of some of his policies. “All must be held accountable for their actions,” the memo read.
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