Crime wave prompts calls for bail reform


On Jan. 27, a New York City police lieutenant and an officer were trying to disperse a disorderly crowd outside a migrant shelter in Midtown Manhattan when they were viciously attacked by several people. After the melee, seven suspected assailants were arrested. Three were charged with felony assault and robbery. Of the seven, only one, who had a previous record of disorderly conduct, was held in lieu of $15,000 bail. All of the others were set free.

After word spread about this heinous incident, the resulting public outcry prompted Mayor Eric Adams and Gov. Kathy Hochul to question the Manhattan district attorney about his handling of the situation. At a news conference, Hochul stood before the cameras and condemned the D.A.’s actions, adding that law enforcement should “get them all and send them back.”

By then, four of the suspects had fled the city. They were eventually caught in Arizona, after an enormous expenditure of police resources, while the others remained at large. On Feb. 13, one of the suspects was arrested with several other people after being caught shoplifting at Queens Center Mall, where a security guard was assaulted while attempting to stop the theft.

While much of the focus on this episode has centered on the migrant crisis, I didn’t hear any commentary about bail reform or how cashless bail affected this situation. While cashless bail most likely wouldn’t have prevented the fight that resulted in the attack on the officers, the aftermath, in which six of the seven suspected assailants were allowed to go free, necessitating the cross-country hunt and the local shoplifting arrest, could have been avoided.

Here on Long Island, Nassau County has repeatedly been named among the safest counties in the nation, thanks to our men and women in blue and law enforcement leadership that is second to none.

Despite that, Long Island is the midst of a crime epidemic. While violent crime is down, property crimes have soared. Crimes such as car theft, burglary and grand larceny have spiked to unprecedented high levels. Retail theft has gotten so out of control that some stores have closed, while others are placing products under lock and key.

The governor finally woke up and publicly recognized that the dramatic increase in retail theft was a statewide problem. Unfortunately, her Band-Aid approach to addressing this serious situation won’t solve the problem.

I believe the root cause of this crime epidemic is the progressive bail reform laws passed by the State Legislature and approved by Hochul in 2020. Those laws, led by cashless bail, softened the criminal justice system, and instead of doing what they were intended to do by eliminating wealth-based detention, began sending a message to criminals that, even if caught and arrested, they would be set free rather than remain in jail. And that message goes beyond crimes such as theft and burglary to include more serious ones such as assault, larceny, drug dealing and the use of firearms.

The flaws in the bail reform laws are evident almost on a daily basis, but instead of meeting this issue head on, the media and many elected officials point to other reasons for the increase in crime we are witnessing. I am constantly seeing reports issued by the Nassau County Police Department describing horrific criminal activity in which arrests were made, but those involved were let go due to cashless bail, and often continued to break the law.

Our criminal justice system should be protecting the victims of crimes, and not letting the perpetrators go free to commit the same crimes again, or perhaps even escalate their criminal activity. The time has come to repeal bail reform. Albany needs to do it now.

Howard Kopel represents Nassau County’s 7th Legislative District, and is the Legislature’s presiding officer.