By Rory I. Lancman
Our city is experiencing historically low crime. At the same time, we are reforming our criminal justice system to focus resources on violent crime and ensure people don’t face harsh consequences for committing low-level offenses. The district attorneys are crucial to both of these efforts, putting dangerous criminals in jail while diverting others to innovative programs like our drug and mental health courts.
This work takes money, but this year, the mayor released a preliminary budget that failed to include the additional funding the district attorneys had requested. Given the crucial role district attorneys have in our city, it should go without saying that they must be adequately funded. That’s why the City Council, in our response to the preliminary budget, supported full funding for the district attorneys. But what did we find in the updated executive budget? No increase.
As chair of the Committee on Courts & Legal Services, and a member of the Public Safety Committee, I know how crucial it is that our district attorneys have the funding they need. In Queens, District Attorney Richard A. Brown has maintained the highest conviction rate and the shortest arrest-to-arraignment period in any of the five boroughs. This strong record of success is threatened when the mayor fails to provide funding for appeals bureau staffing and rackets investigators.
It’s also galling to see a mayor who has proposed several anti-gun violence programs fail to provide $850,000 in funding for a comprehensive anti-gun initiative that the Queens DA’s office wants to create. Most frustratingly, yet again, the mayor has ignored the space needs of the Queens DA’s office.
For years, prosecutors and other staff have been crammed into small rooms in several buildings because the city has failed to identify a long-term solution for an expanded and modernized facility. While we wait for the mayor to take action on this, he should at least step up and provide the $2.5 million the office desperately needs for rental space.
The other district attorneys have equally pressing needs. Bronx District Attorney Darcel Clark, responding to a troubling increase in violence on Rikers Island, has requested $1.8 million to create a Rikers Island Prosecution Bureau. She also requested funding for a Domestic Violence Complaint Unit, a Conviction Integrity Unit and an Immigrant Affairs Unit.
The Richmond County DA has requested funds to create a Community Partnership Unit to improve his office’s relationship with the people of Staten Island. He also hopes to bring his office into this century with funding for a case management system, and wants to address Staten Island’s opioid epidemic by adding staff to the Narcotics & Investigations Bureau, among other requests. The Kings County DA has requested funding to expand the Forensic Science Unit and the Crime Strategies Unit, and the Manhattan DA needs additional funding for its Alternatives to Incarceration Unit.
The district attorneys are our partners in keeping our city safe and ensuring our criminal justice system is fair and effective. The mayor must step up and provide the crucial funding they requested.
Council Member Rory I. Lancman chairs the Committee on Courts & Legal Services and represents the 24th Council District.