New York City Mulls Decriminalizing Low Level Offenses - Like Peeing in Public

The New York City City Council is mulling several proposals that would decriminalize minor offenses like public urination and open containers, the New York Daily News reports.


Under a proposal by City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito’s office, people would not be criminally charged for drinking in public, being in the park after dark and other minor violations. These criminal summonses, enforced under “broken windows” policing, would become tickets that could be paid and handled at a civil court instead of a criminal one. If the proposal were to pass, cops could no longer arrest people for these infractions and missed court dates would become default monetary judgments instead of warrants.

The main offenses that would become civil violations under the proposals would be public consumption of alcohol, public urination, bicycling on the sidewalk, being in a park after dark, failure to obey a park sign, littering and unreasonable noise. They account for 42 percent of summonses issued by the cops since 2001 and account for 510,000 open arrest warrants. More than half of summons issued since 2001 have been been dismissed.

Fare evasion has become one of the top charges leading to jail time. Another plan considered by the city council would also make this offense one that would be handled by a civil court.

Since 2001, 81 percent of those issued a summons have been black or Latino. Critics have long argued that these low-level criminal summonses are disproportionately given to residents of color, and can hurt people’s chances of finding work or getting student loans.

“All the consequences of the criminal justice system would be removed and people would just be civilly responsible for their conduct,” said City Councilman Rory Lancman (D-Queens), chairman of the Courts and Legal Services Committee, who is working on the proposal with Mark-Viverito. “And it would be akin to a parking ticket, which I think would be more than enough to deter people from committing that kind of conduct without bringing the heavy hammer of the criminal justice system down on their head.”

NYPD Commissioner Bill Bratton is against the proposal.

“I’m not supportive of the idea of civil summonses for these offenses because I think that they’d be basically totally ignored, that they don’t have any bite to them, if you will,” Bratton said during a council hearing in March.

Through April 12, the city has seen a 29 percent decrease in summonses issued from the same period last year.

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