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The New York state Capitol in Albany

ALBANY — Leaders of groups representing county sheriffs and police chiefs say the state government should produce a comprehensive evaluation of recent modifications to the bail statutes to determine the impacts on public safety in communities across New York.

Both Patrick Phelan, director of the New York State Association of Chiefs of Police, and Peter Kehoe, director of the New York State Sheriffs Association, said they are convinced New York's move to eliminate judicial discretion in many arraignments for serious offenses has played a role in escalating gun violence.

They said the state, however, has not crunched the data available from court records to ascertain whether the new cashless bail system is contributing to crime.

"They don't want you to see what is there," said Phelan, former chief of the Greece Police Department in Monroe County.

Kehoe said judges, in order to protect public safety, need to be able to make an "individualized determination" whether a defendant appearing in his or her courtroom poses a danger to society.

"That would go a long way to solving the problems we are seeing with this wide-open, so-called bail reform," Kehoe said.

Phelan and Kehoe both noted that raw courthouse data about arraignments, released by the state Office of Court Administration, came with no analysis as to whether the revised bail law is having any impacts on public safety.

"If you just provide a pile of mush, it's not going to make any sense to anybody," Phelan said.

The Legislature has assigned tasks related to the bail changes to two agencies: the Office of Court Administration and the Division of Criminal Justice Services.

The court agency earlier this month released the first of what are expected to be biannual reports giving raw data on court appearances resulting from arrests.

DCJS is required to release its reports on the state's crime data by July 2 next year.

Lucian Chalfen, spokesman for the Office of Court Administration, said the judiciary is acting as an "independent arbiter" with regard to the raw data it has shared with the public. "It is not our role to analyze or draw conclusions," he said.

Janine Kava, spokeswoman for DCJS, maintained the reasons for the surge in shootings are more complex than the bail changes.

"Gun violence has increased in communities — with or without bail reform laws — across the country since the onset of the COVID pandemic," Kava said in a statement. "At the same time, however, overall crime in New York state has remained near all-time reported lows. Pointing solely to bail reform as a reason ignores the complex, confluence of factors due to COVID and other factors historically associated with gun violence, including but not limited to: unemployment, closure of schools and other essential programs; isolation from family, friends and support systems; an increase in the number of outdoor gatherings; and social unrest and anti-police sentiment in communities."

Gov. Andrew Cuomo last week declared a "disaster emergency," noting the state's response to an epidemic of gun violence will view the wave of shootings as a public health crisis.

Cuomo said the state, in tackling gun violence, will be "addressing the systemic injustices that were exposed by COVID.”

The bail modifications approved by Cuomo in 2019 eliminated the ability of judges to remand defendants to jail if they are charged with any of a wide variety of felonies and misdemeanors, including several firearms offenses.

On Wednesday, Sen. Alexis Weik, R-Long Island, introduced legislation that would restore judicial discretion in bail matters involving firearms offenses.

Also calling for a full study of the how the bail changes are affecting public safety are Senate Minority Leader Rob Ortt, R-North Tonawanda, and Assembly Minority Leader Will Barclay, R-Pulaski.

Ortt, in a letter this week to Judge Lawrence Marks of the Office of Court Administration, and Michael Green, director of the criminal justice services agency, urged that they collaborate on a study examining whether the bail changes enacted in early 2020 have been a factor in an increase in crime.

"It is common sense that releasing more defendants pending trial will lead to an uptick in crime," Ortt maintained.

Cuomo said part of his strategy will be a new summer jobs program for youth. New details of that program were released Wednesday.

Joe Mahoney covers the New York Statehouse for CNHI’s newspapers and websites. Reach him at jmahoney@cnhinews.com.

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