By Bill Parry
Just two days after NYPD Officer Randolph Holder was shot and killed, Mayor Bill de Blasio called for two key changes to state law to better ensure that dangerous defendants are not released to the street. The mayor has been pushing bail reforms as a way to keep nonviolent defendants out of jail.
The change would allow judges to consider public safety risk in determining an individual’s bail amount. New York is only one of three states that does not allow judges to consider dangerousness when setting bail.
De Blasio’s proposal would also allow judges to consider public safety risk and flight risk when determining whether an individual is eligible for a drug treatment diversion program, neither of which is currently required for consideration.
“The death of Officer Randolph Holder was a clear and tragic signal that we must ensure dangerous individuals with long criminal histories do not walk our streets,” de Blasio said. “Yet as the law stands, judges can only consider risk of flight when determining a bail amount. Our judges must be able to look at how dangerous someone is when they decide how much bail is set. and should look at these factors when they decide whether to divert someone away from jail. If someone poses a significant threat to our city’s safety, they must be behind bars, and today’s announcement is a strong step toward keeping our residents, and our hardworking officers, safe from harm.”
Tyrone Howard, the individual being held responsible for killing Officer Holder, was freed after a fourth felony drug-dealing conviction when a judge deemed him eligible for a drug treatment program. Howard had an extensive history of drug felonies and misdemeanors.
The judge could have made a different bail decision if he had been able to consider Howard’s extensive criminal history as an element of dangerousness. Criminal history is a major component of validated risk-assessment tools that have been shown in other jurisdictions to accurately predict whether a defendant will re-offend if released.
City Councilman Rory Lancman (D-Hillcrest), the chairman of the Committee on Courts & Legal Services, pointed out that there were two judicial decisions in the Howard case— the decision to grant him bail, which was set at $35,000. and the diversion that sent him to a drug treatment program and
“Our bail system is dysfunctional and dangerous,” Lancman said. “Dangerous to the public, who cannot be protected because New York law prohibits judges from considering a defendant’s danger to the community when determining bail; and dangerous to too many low-level, nonviolent defendants who get sent to Rikers at enormous taxpayer expense because they can’t pay $500 to $1,000 in bail.”
Reach reporter Bill Parry by e-mail at bparr