Residents of the Belmont, Bathgate, East Tremont and West Farms neighborhoods are receiving mixed messages on the changes in the application of bail in New York State, slated to take effect in January.
At a heated Community Board 6 meeting last month, two police officers explained that the elimination of cash bail for non-violent misdemeanors would mean law offenders could be released the same day of arrest. The officers painted a bleak picture of what that might mean: someone robs a community resident’s home, is taken into custody and then is seen out on the street hours later.
On Wednesday night, residents were presented with a different picture. At the last community board meeting of the year, held at Fordham University, Sonya Tennell, assistant district attorney, represented Bronx DA Darcel Clark to clarify concerns around the new law. “This is not a situation where people are just going to be let out of jail,” she said. “No one is coming into your home.”
Noorjahan Wells, a CB6 board member, worried that the presentation by the two police officers caused irreparable damage. “You can’t unhear what you’ve already heard from law enforcement. So, the fear has already been instilled.”
“The fear mongering has to stop,” she said.
Tennell said that alternatives to incarceration, such as diversion programs, can be a more appropriate sentence. “If someone has bail set and it’s $100, $200, $500 and they are unable to make that bail… we’re not going to have someone sit in jail and await their trial,” she said. She said the consequences will be different for repeat offenders but she did not expand on what the procedure would be.
Victor Martinez, the Bronx borough liaison for Comptroller Scott Stringer, later called attention to the expense of incarceration. It costs more than $300,000 a year to detain someone in a New York City jail.
Tennell pointed out that currently a high number of low-level offenders from the Bronx await release at Rikers Island because they can’t make bail.
Franz and fellow CB6 board member Lillie Steed asked the representatives of elected officials to provide information on laws before they are passed.
“The problem is that every month we get officials who talk about turkey giveaways and that’s great. But I’ve been on the board for 20 years and every day they pass laws and I’ve never once had someone come in and say ‘This is a law that’s going to be passed and I voted “yes” or I voted “no” and this is how it’s going to impact the community,’” Franz said.
They asked officials for more information on legislation, and faster, objecting to only hearing about the bail reform in November, less than two months before the bill is to go into effect.
“When we’re out in the community, how are we going to go out and explain what’s happening when we’re blindsided?” Steed said. “Because last month was a shamble. Those detectives came in and it was a shamble.”
Tennell said the district attorney plans to speak directly to the community at a future board meeting. A date has not yet been set.