Killing of NYPD Officer Shouldn’t Derail Successful Alternative-to-Incarceration Programs

Last week, NYPD Officer Holder was shot and killed when responding to a gang dispute. The alleged shooter, Tyrone Howard, had a warrant issued for his arrest after failing to appear in his court issued diversion program in May. NYPD was in the process of searching for Mr. Howard to remand him to jail for violating his agreement, but unfortunately, they were unsuccessful in their search for Mr. Howard. Since the shooting of the Officer Holder, some elected officials and advocates are reexamining the diversion court process and its utility vis-a-vis public safety.

The shooting of NYPD Officer Holder is a terrible tragedy. Elected officials and advocates are rightly examining what could have prevented the killing of this celebrated police officer. As we work together to increase public safety for all New Yorkers, let's make sure not to walk back New York's progress to a new and successful approach towards public health and safety. 

Today, the Wall Street Journal reported that Mayor de Blasio called for adding "danger to public safety" to the eligibility criteria for diversion court candidates.  But they failed to acknowledge that this criteria already exists in New York Law. In 2009 – when elected officials, advocates, and community members historically passed the Rockefeller Drug Law reforms – elected officials amended the New York diversion court criteria to consider public safety risks when screening potential diversion candidates.

Every day New York judges make their decisions while taking public safety into consideration. In New York City, drug courts have taken over 50,000 referrals and resulted in thousands of plea arrangements. Statewide there are 146 drug courts, which have been operating since the 1990s. The tragedy that occurred this week is an anomaly—if not, drug courts would have been dismantled long ago. But as a society, we’ve recognized the value of drug courts and diversion programs as a commonsense approach to problems unlikely to be remedied – and likely to be made worse – by locking someone up behind bars.

There is nationwide recognition, even from law enforcement, that providing health and treatment services increases public safety. This week, Bill Brattonjoined hundreds of senior law enforcement officials around the country in calling for increasing judicial diversion programs for petty drug and mental/behavioral health-related offenses. 

While community members and advocates continue to work with elected officials to increase public safety in our communities, it would be both factually wrong and a great shame to attempt to pin the actions of one person on thousands of people who are rightfully being given opportunities to deal with addiction and related issues. These approaches produce better health outcomes, save money, and reduce crime. 

As we all work to honor the memory of Officer Holder, let's continue to make New York safer by having evidence- and research-based conversations about ensuring public safety and providing opportunities for people who need help. Let’s not let the actions of one individual undo the progress that we’ve made.

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