Queens DA discusses bail reform during 102nd Precinct Community Council meeting in Richmond Hill

Melinda Katz speaks during the 102nd Precinct’s Community Council meeting on Nov. 1 in Richmond Hill. (Photo courtesy of Ethan Marshall)

Queens District Attorney Melinda Katz appeared at the 102nd Precinct Community Council meeting at the One Stop Richmond Hill Community Center on Nov. 1 to discuss a variety of topics, including bail reform in both the city and the state.

Katz noted that the bail laws changed in the state on the very day that she took office on Jan. 1, 2020. According to Katz, New York is the only state in the country that does not allow judges to take into account whether a defendant, before trial, poses a danger to the community.

“The judges have so [much] discretion already,” Katz said. “But it would be important if they could to take that one bit of information and be able to utilize it when they are determining a defendant’s fate before the trial.”

The current bail laws state that the DA’s office cannot ask for bail for those arrested for misdemeanors or non-violent crimes. She noted that in other states, a lot of jurisdictions determine whether or not someone should be granted the opportunity for bail.

Despite her criticisms of the bail laws in the state, Katz said she understood the main purposes behind them. She noted that there had been many instances where someone was arrested for a very minor crime, but they and their family weren’t wealthy enough to pay for bail, resulting in them spending a long time in jail waiting for their court date or until the charges were dismissed. Still, she expressed a desire for those arrested for violent crimes to face stricter terms when it comes to bail, if even at all.

One thing Katz did note in terms of progress being made in New York when it comes to bail laws was a measure recently passed by local legislatures. According to Katz, this has helped how her office approaches bail in two ways.

This measure allows for the DA’s office to ask for bail on hate crimes. Previously, alleged offenders would only receive desk appearance tickets, which would allow them to avoid having to go through central booking and the DA’s office. This also empowers police officers to make arrests for hate crimes, creating the potential for getting more violent offenders off the streets.

“I think I should be able to remand when someone proves to be a harm to community safety,” Katz said. “I think those are important issues to talk about. I consider my office to be a steady hand during turbulent times.”

While Katz acknowledged that crime certainly remains a problem, she touted the measures she and the NYPD have made to help work to put a stop to it. This included establishing the Violent Criminal Enterprises Bureau, which works to get guns, gangs and drugs off the streets. Katz emphasized the importance of holding people illegally trafficking guns into Queens and gang members accountable.

“You buy guns in other states like Virginia or South Carolina and bring them up the iron pipeline and you bring them into our borough and sell them to our children, I’ll find you, we’ll prosecute you and we’ll convict you for those crimes,” Katz said.

Katz also warned those in attendance to look out for people who may be building high-polymer plastic guns. Known as ghost guns, they are often assembled after each small part is purchased online. They have become easily accessible for people and are now frequently used in crimes like robbery, assault and murder. However, Katz said she now has a unit investigating those on the internet buying the necessary parts to construct them.

Additionally, Katz made it known that there’s been an increase in phone scams as of late. The first, referred to as a grandparent scam, involves calls to grandparents from people claiming to be their grandkids calling from jail in Florida and asking for $10,000 in order to get bailed out, or else they wouldn’t be put in front of a judge. The second phone scam involves someone claiming to be from the DA’s office saying this person is being investigated and that the investigation would be marked as completed and the individual considered to be paid in full for $10,000.

If anyone gets these calls, texts or emails, Katz advises them to see if there’s a caller ID and to call her office. Katz’s main office can be reached at 718-286-6000.

The 102nd Precinct is located in Richmond Hill and serves a portion of central Queens containing Kew Gardens, Richmond Hill East, Richmond Hill, Woodhaven and the northern part of Ozone Park.