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Manhattan DA Alvin Bragg defends reforms amid NYPD objections – New York Daily News



Newly minted Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg was forced to defend his criminal justice reforms on Saturday after the NYPD unions and the city’s top cop charged that his laissez-faire approach to what he deems minor crimes threatens the safety of officers and the public.
Bragg called the criticism of his policy a “misunderstanding” and vowed that he would “stay the course.”
Police Commissioner Keechant Sewell sided with the unions against the prosecutor on Friday, saying in a message to the rank and file: “I strongly believe that this policy injects debate into decisions that would otherwise be uncontroversial, will invite violence against police officers and will have deleterious effects on our relationship with the communities we protect.”
“I am very concerned about the implications to your safety as police officers, the safety of the public and justice for the victims,” said Sewell, the NYPD’s first female police commissioner.
Despite the rising number of murders and other violent crimes over the past two years, Bragg stood by his “soft-on-crime” approach unveiled last week in an order to his staff that would let criminals dodge jail time for fare-beating, prostitution, drug dealing and some instances of obstructing police and resisting arrest.
“We said we were going to marry fairness and safety,” Bragg said Saturday, standing on stage at the Harlem headquarters of the National Action Network with the Rev. Al Sharpton looking on. “We know that safety has got to be based in our community, and fairness and cannot be driven solely by incarceration.”
Bragg’s laxer policies met with swift and vigorous resistance from the NYPD unions, which warned that similar policies have failed in Chicago, San Francisco and other cities.
Mayor Adams, who campaigned on a promise of addressing rising crime, has shown a willingness to give Bragg the benefit of the doubt for now. “He has a real vision,” Adams said Wednesday after news reports of Bragg’s memo.
The new district attorney, who has told of being the victim of violent crime himself, said that reducing gun violence and ensuring safe streets is his top priority.
“We know that our first civil right is the right to walk safely to our corner store,” he said in his National Action Network appearance.
Also among reforms unveiled by the Manhattan DA is a new policy that would downgrade armed robbery charges in commercial settings as long as the offender “didn’t create a genuine risk of physical harm.”
Sewell pushed back against the soft treatment.
“Commercial establishments have endured much during this pandemic and city government should do whatever it can to ensure they participate and thrive in the city’s ongoing recovery effort,” she said.
Bragg said that cops had gotten his policy wrong, however.
“Let me just say there has been some misunderstandings,” the district attorney said. “So again, let me be clear to all those who I may be reintroducing myself to: If you go to the store in Manhattan and use a gun to rob that store, that is armed robbery, that is serious and will be prosecuted.”
Bragg’s reassurances came as the Sergeants Benevolent Association warned members that the district attorney’s office on Thursday left a key fact out of a criminal complaint in a shoplifting case — that the store employees were threatened with a pair of scissors.
“The [assistant district attorney] prepping the accusatory instrument intentionally omitted all facts related to the perp threatening the employees with a weapon,” SBA President Vincent Vallelong wrote in a text to his members.
Christian Hall, 30, of Uniondale, L.I., used the scissors to fend off employees of a TJ Maxx store on Sixth Ave. near W. 18th St. in Chelsea who tried to stop him from stealing a pair of women’s shoes and linens at 1:30 p.m. on Thursday, police said.
“Don’t f–king touch me,” he told store security, according to the NYPD.
Hall was arrested at the store and charged with robbery, criminal possession of stolen property and possession of a crack pipe.
The DA’s office dropped the robbery charge — which implied force was used — and instead charged Hall with shoplifting. Hall was released without bail.
Vallelong, who represents 13,000 active and retired police sergeants, warned his members not to sign off on any charges that do not reflect the facts of the case.
“If the Manhattan DA wants to rewrite penal law, make him own it,” Vallelong said.
The incident highlights the differences between the prosecutor’s policy and police.
“I am concerned about sweeping edicts that seem to remove discretion, not just from police officers, but also from assistant district attorneys regarding what crimes to prosecute and how to charge them,” Sewell told officers in her note.
Soft-pedaling resisting arrest is also a concern for cops — but Bragg tried to reassure law enforcement of that as well.
“To all of our partners in law enforcement, let’s also be clear about another thing: If you are assaulted, that is a serious matter and a crime, and that will be prosecuted as such in the County of New York,” he said.
Bragg promised to work with the NYPD to reach a compromise toward policing.
“We’re going to have discussions and collaboration,” he said. “I’ve been working with law enforcement for the past 20 years and expect to continue to do that in a way to keep the city safe and to promote fairness and safety and justice for all.”
Sharpton, who hosted Bragg’s predecessor Cy Vance Jr. at the National Action Network a number of times, said he tried to “stay out of the local political stuff,” but invited the new district attorney to his headquarters to let him address people directly.
The civil rights leader, who has often been at odds with law enforcement, tried to put the new policies in perspective.
Recalling a lesson in killing bugs from his grandmother, Sharpton likened petty criminals to insects: “You don’t need a sledgehammer to kill a roach. You need your slipper.”
Still, Bragg promised not to waver from his reforms.
“It’s been a long week and I’m new to politics, but I’m steadfast,” he said. “We’ve got to stay the course.”


Hamza Chohan

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