Op-ed: An urgent call for revising NY’s criminal justice reforms to protect public safety

Councilman Robert Holden
File photo by William Alatriste/NYC.gov

In 2019, the State Legislature and Governor Andrew Cuomo embarked on a controversial overhaul of New York’s criminal justice system by enacting several laws, including cashless bail and sweeping changes to discovery laws. Simultaneously, the New York City Council passed laws that compounded these challenges, notably the elimination of punitive segregation in city jails and qualified immunity for police officers. These actions have collectively undermined public safety and constrained law enforcement effectiveness.

The city is still grappling with the tragic death of Detective Jonathan Diller, who was killed in the line of duty by two individuals with extensive criminal histories. At his funeral, his widow, Stephanie Diller, poignantly asked, “How many more police officers and how many more families need to make the ultimate sacrifice before we start protecting them?” Her words echo those of Dominique Luzuriaga Rivera, widow of Detective Jason Rivera, who, along with his partner Detective Wilbert Mora, was fatally shot in 2022. Dominique criticized Manhattan DA Alvin Bragg and the criminal justice reforms, saying, “The system continues to fail us. We are not safe anymore, not even the members of the service. I know you were tired of these laws… I’m sure all of our blue family is tired, too. But I promise – we promise – that your death won’t be in vain.”

Yet, despite these heart-wrenching appeals, state and city elected officials have failed to act, rendering the sacrifices of these police officers seemingly in vain.

The state’s bail reform legislation effectively eliminated cash bail, allowing individuals with violent tendencies to be prematurely released. This policy, alongside the HALT Act—which essentially removes any punishment in our jails— Less is More, and the changes to discovery laws that mandate all prosecutorial evidence be shared within 15 days, has overwhelmed district attorneys’ offices and compromised public safety.

And the elimination of punitive segregation here in the city has led to increased violence within jails, endangering both inmates and staff. These city reforms have removed crucial tools for maintaining order and discipline, exacerbating the challenges posed by state-level reforms.

The ramifications of these policies are evident not just in the statistics but in the daily lives of New Yorkers. The streets and subways have become stages for random violence, including people being shoved in front of subway cars, assaults, stabbings, and shootings in broad daylight. Elderly churchgoers have been pushed down stairs and robbed. Gang members entering through the border are breaking the law with impunity. Our police and correction officers are prohibited from cooperating with federal immigration authorities, allowing these criminals to exploit our sanctuary laws.

Our elected officials need to wake up and overturn these dangerous laws and instead advocate for a system that honors the sacrifices of law enforcement officers like Detective Diller and protects the citizens of New York. Our priorities must be clear: ensure public safety, deliver justice for victims and their families, and not bend backward for those who disregard the law.

While the State Legislature focuses on passing a late budget, Rome is burning. This call to action is urgent—it is time for the government to respond decisively and prevent further tragedies. New Yorkers are begging their elected officials to restore safety and accountability in the criminal justice system. Let’s hope they wake up and stop this social experiment for our sake.


*Council Member Robert Holden represents District 30 in Queens, which covers Maspeth, Middle Village, Glendale, Elmhurst, Rego Park and parts of Ridgewood.