Short Take: Give Bragg A Chance

While it’s unclear how exactly the memo from Manhattan’s new district attorney, Alvin Bragg, will play out in the courtroom, there was no doubt that it was going to be received poorly by the cops. The new police commissioner, Keechan Sewell, immediately invoked the First Rule of Policing.

Commissioner Sewell, who, like Mr. Bragg, was just a week into her job, said in her email to about 36,000 members of the department that she had studied the policies and come away “very concerned about the implications to your safety as police officers, the safety of the public and justice for the victims.”

Ironically, Sewell’s assertion couldn’t be chalked up to the “usual suspects,” given that the players in the emerging drama can’t blame racism for the disagreement, as the DA, the Mayor and the PC are all black. It thus comes down to a matter of policy, whether the ideological contentions that addressing underlying causes of crime, poverty, mental illness and racism, will make for a safer city than the demands for incarceration to deter and incapacitate those who break the law.

To a significant extent, much of this is out of Bragg’s hands, as state law sets minimum sentences of incarceration for most crimes. To some extent, Bragg is entirely in control, as his assistants have the power to charge as they will, or decide not to charge or prosecute at all. One of the offenses that give rise to police outrage is that Bragg has told his assistants not to prosecute resisting arrest, one of the most vague and easily abused charges available.

The directive on resisting arrest was among those that Commissioner Sewell expressed most concern about. She said that it would send a message to police officers and others that there was “an unwillingness to protect those who are carrying out their duties.”

“I strongly believe that this policy injects debate into decisions that would otherwise be uncontroversial, will invite violence against police officers and will have deleterious effects on our relationship with the communities we protect,” she wrote.

And to no one’s shock, the New York Post sees this as an invitation to chaos and anarchy, because that’s what the Post does.

It’s going to be a free-for-all as opportunists take advantage of a new era — the decade of the criminal. Thanks to New York’s political elite, we have to contend with: criminal-justice reform, bail reform, prison reform, parole reform, Raise the Age and now another DA who has appointed himself judge and jury.

But whether one agrees with Bragg’s approach or not, and I’ve long been dubious about both the authority and wisdom of handing prosecutors the power to impose a super-veto on laws duly enacted by legislatures, the one thing that can’t be ignored is that he told voters that this was what he planned to do if elected and they elected him.

What Bragg is going to do should be no surprise. He posted his manifesto on his Web site way before November’s election. Unfortunately, those who voted for him never read it or thought of the consequences, or they ignored it.

Or they did exactly what voters do, elected the person who promised to make changes people believe will produce better outcomes. Just because former NYPD Sergeant turned professor at John Jay College of Coppery and Shoe Repair, Joe Giacalone, didn’t support Bragg doesn’t mean his message wasn’t embraced by enough people who fully understood and appreciated what they wanted, and voted thoughtfully for the candidate of their choice.

Will Bragg’s shift in policy work? There’s no doubt that a great many people arrested and charged with petty offenses are acting out of poverty, the lack of alternatives resulting from racial discrimination and, sadly, mental illness. It may not be within Bragg’s power to fix these intransigent societal problems, and it remains unclear whether declining to prosecute will prove part of the solution or part of the problem, but Bragg was elected to give this a try.

It may well fail. It may succeed in some areas and fail in others. Or, maybe it will surprise us and prove that people will rise above their worst impulses and seize the break they were given by Bragg’s office to go on to succeed as law-abiding citizens. But the fact is that Bragg was elected to give this a try. Let him try. If this doesn’t work, it will become apparent, and no doubt the NY Post will put it on the front page day after day, but to undermine this experiment before it has the chance to succeed serves no one.

5 thoughts on “Short Take: Give Bragg A Chance

  1. Robert Parry

    It seems the Bragg model has been tested in the Krasner, Boudin & Foxx models.

    Your assertion about the voters’ will is well founded. But there were 559 cautionary tales in Philly last year.

  2. B. McLeod

    I am completely happy with him trying this in New York City. It is always best to run the most dangerous experiments in a distant lab. We will see how it goes.

  3. Karl S

    “John Jay College of Coppery and Shoe Repair,…” hahaha…great line. Yeah, Bragg’s been in office hardly a week? The usual suspects (e.g. NY Post) are doing what they normally do while some others (e.g. Keechan Sewell) seem to be staking out positions to try and protect their turf. The funniest of the bunch was Bratton’s hair on fire invocation of the Soros bogeyman the other day.

  4. Jacob Williams

    Points 6a and 6b of Bragg’s memo – concerning various kinds of burglary – look concerning but I know nothing of New York legal code, and it looks as it it’s merely downgrading a more serious charge to a lesser one, which precludes the sorts of shenanigans San Francisco has been experiencing with theft and vandalism. Refusing to enforce trespassing or theft of subway services is a more double-edged choice given how the crowds of vagrants crowding New York are going to respond to that relaxed enforcement, but given how Deblasio dealt with the issue of homelessness (those infamous arched benches and vent covers, for example), Bragg has nowhere to go but up.

    The rest I don’t know enough about to even make an educated guess. It depends on how reform efforts proceed elsewhere in the city and state, mostly. We’ll see.


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