Local officials discuss impact of bail reform

GLOVERSVILLE — Mayor Vince DeSantis, Police Chief Anthony “Tony” Clay and Fulton County Sheriff Richard Giardino on Wednesday conducted a “Facebook Live” discussion on the topic of New York state bail and discovery reform and its impact on local crime.

DeSantis began the discussion referencing his time as an assistant district attorney prosecuting criminals alongside Giardino decades ago when prosecutors and law enforcement had more tools available to them to curb potential criminal activity. DeSantis said his long tenure as a city judge helped convince him that incarceration and cash bail can help reduce crime.

“You can imagine someone being unruly or someone who was a menace to their neighborhood, or a danger to other people, either in their household or in the neighborhood,” DeSantis said. “They could be held for arraignment, and then the judge would have to come in and arraign the person and assess whether that person should be released or not. If a judge wasn’t available [until] the next morning, you know, they could set station-house-bail and the person would have to sit. This was stopping, preventing, a lot of mayhem, you know, in the neighborhoods. And that was one of the things about bail reform that — all of the capability was taken away, the capability of de-escalating a bad situation in a neighborhood, all of that was taken away from the criminal justice system. So, that’s resulted in what we have today.”

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Wednesday’s discussion took place within the context of a series high-profile violent crimes, or alleged crimes, in Gloversville over the past year, including a stabbing death in April, the shooting of a bystander to a dispute in May, an alleged shooting in June, an alleged felony kidnapping by knifepoint in August and other incidents like shell casings bring found on 3rd Street in August, which — although unconnected to a charged crime — helped contribute to a narrative that has put crime center stage as a topic for conversation and concern among residents of the city and of Fulton County.

According to the New York state Index of Crimes by County and Agency, there was an uptick of violent crimes in the city of Gloversville in 2020, when 79 violent crimes occurred, which is 13 more than in 2019 — prior to the implementation of bail and discovery reforms.

However, violent crimes and total crimes in Gloversville have been significantly higher in recent years than in 2020. In 2016 there were the highest number of violent crimes recorded over the past 31 years for Gloversville at 93 violent crimes, amid 538 total crimes. In 2015 there were 82 violent crimes and 706 total crimes, well above the 479 total crimes listed for Gloversville in 2020.

New York state’s index of crimes, available at data.ny.gov, shows crime statistics for Gloversville that go back to 1990 and always lag about a year behind, with 2021 statistics unlikely to be available until the summer of 2022.

Over the past 30 years the highest number of total crimes recorded for Gloversville, including property and violent crimes, was in 1993 when there were 1,041 total crimes, but there were fewer violent crimes than in 2020 at 41 violent crimes.

Looking at the average number of total crimes and violent crimes over the past 30 years shows overall crime has steadily declined in Gloversville, but annual violent crime has increased by 21% since the 1990s.

For the decade of the 1990s Gloversville averaged 875 total crimes per year and 51 violent crimes per year.

From 2000 to 2010 Gloversville averaged 738 total crimes per year and 61 violent crimes per year.

From 2011 to 2020 Gloversville averaged 519 total crimes per year and 62 violent crimes per year.

NYS BAIL AND DISCOVERY REFORM

New York state’s original bail reform was passed as part of the state’s 2019 budget process and eliminated cash bail for most misdemeanor and non-violent felony charges and went into effect Jan. 1, 2020. That version of bail reform, however, was quickly scaled back with an additional 20 categories of crimes added back-in as being eligible for cash bail starting July 2, 2020, including: 2nd degree burglary, criminally negligent homicide, leaving the scene of a fatal accident, knowingly participating in a criminal enterprise, vehicular assault, first-degree criminal possession or sale of a controlled substance, criminal possession of a weapon on school grounds, witness tampering, money laundering, sex trafficking and facilitating a sexual performance of a child.

One of the provisions of the July 2020 reform of the first bail reform has proven controversial among gun rights advocates. Judges were given a range of new discretions for granting or not granting a cash bail including requiring a defendant to “refrain from possessing a firearm, destructive device or other dangerous weapon” as a prerequisite for being released.

Giardino, a vocal gun rights advocate, would not comment on whether or not he supports giving judges the discretion to require a defendant to surrender firearms in order to be released. He said he believes the legislature realized they had rushed through the original bail reform after hearing horror stories, mainly from New York city.

“The problem is, these people are still innocent until proven guilty,” Giardino said. “It’s just that while this is pending, you know, there’s some very legitimate reasons to ensure that you return to court, and to do it with cash bail.”

Giardino, a former judge, said the politics around bail and discovery reform are different in a major urban center like New York City, where many judges are appointed, versus upstate New York where most judges are elected and must face voter scrutiny over their decisions.

DeSantis said he’s not surprised the state reformed the original 2019 bail reform.

“These changes were made all at once, and really without any input from law enforcement,” DeSantis said. “The legislature passed these things without, you know, consulting NYCOM — the New York state Conference of Mayors — police agencies. It was done without regard to the dramatic unintended consequences of these reforms. And like the sheriff says, it’s not it’s not that everybody was against the bail reform. We could all understand that there had to be some reforms, but why did they have to go to such extremes? You know, almost ‘per se’ there would be unintended consequences when you take this broad brush approach and say there’s going to be no more cash bail, and it’s going to be a complete open file from the prosecutor to the defense.”

DeSantis referenced the discovery reform portion of the 2019 criminal justice reform legislation, which changed the rules for when prosecutors have to release evidence to be used against defendants in court, requiring “automatic” discovery, eliminating the need for defense attorneys to make written demands to see the information.

Clay said discovery reform has substantially increased the amount of work on law enforcement officers.

“[Discovery reform], initially, started out as an additional workload for us, getting kind of last minute notifications as to what the changes might be and how we were going to comply with the changes,” Clay said. “Back in 2019, we were preparing for 2020 without a heck of a lot of guidance from the state itself, you know, working closely with District Attorney Chad Brown and his office and coming up with how we were going to proceed with the recovery and bail reform, which included a significant change in the way we did business subsequent to arrests, along with how we process the paperwork after arrest for discovery and compliance. There are huge changes in there that took quite a bit of work and preparation … once the reforms were executed in discovery it was an entire brand new burden on our available manpower, which is limited to begin with, and the amount of time it occupies our officers.”

Clay said law enforcement has no choice but to comply with the regulations or their criminal cases will get “tossed out.” He said he’s uncertain how to interpret the statistical data regarding overall crime in Gloversville. He said the number of incidence calls and arrests in recent years have been steady with no major changes.

“I’m not a statistician. I’d say if I was good at math, I would’ve gotten a real job, you know?” Clay quipped.

During a Gun Violence Community Meeting organized by DeSantis, Clay said the Gloversville Police Dept. had responded to 471 domestic incidents in 2021 as of July, which put the city on pace to be below the total number of domestic incidents the police department responded to in 2020 when there were 967 total, and significantly less than in 2019 when police responded to 1,001 total domestic incidents.

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“Adult arrests have kind of gone down. We hit a high in this five-year sample in 2018 when there were 1,141 domestic incidents, which generated 141 arrests,” he said at the forum. “Last year out of 967 [incidents] we made 57 arrests.”

On Wednesday DeSantis cautioned that 2020 was such a strange year due to the coronavirus pandemic that it may not be indicative of an accurate trend, which he believes is going in the wrong direction for Gloversville and not helping all of the city government’s efforts to improve the city.

Clay added that it’s possible that the public may be getting frustrated with the justice system and there may be a chilling effect on the number of crimes reported when people feel swift justice will not be available to them.

Giardino said there is a backlog of criminal cases likely not reflected in the 2020 data. He said the new burdens placed on law enforcement by discovery reform has resulted in law enforcement scheduling when arrests will occur instead of attempting to process them as quickly as reasonably possible, as in the past.

Clay said his officers are now required to finish the paperwork on arrests to meet the requirements of the discovery reform by the end of their shifts, which ties up manpower that might otherwise be available for community policing.

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By Paul Wager