NEW YORK – New York police are unbuttoning — at least when it comes to drinking alcohol and urinating on the street.
From next Monday, petty offenders will no longer be arrested or prosecuted in Manhattan for minor misdeeds such as public consumption of alcohol, public urination or putting your feet on the seat in the subway.
Officials say the city is introducing the reform to give police more time to focus on serious crime — following an increase in homicides, gang-motivated shootings, rape and robbery in 2015.
Overall crime fell 1.7 percent in the largest U.S. city, but major crime rose 3 percent in Manhattan in 2015, albeit up from an historic low in 2014.
“Today’s reforms allow our hardworking police officers to concentrate their efforts on the narrow group of individuals driving violent crime in New York City,” said Mayor Bill de Blasio.
People will be arrested for minor offenses, other examples of which include littering or taking up two seats on the subway, only if there is a clear public safety reason to do so, Manhattan district attorney Cyrus Vance said.
The change in policy is expected to ease the burden of around 10,000 arrests otherwise being processed in the Manhattan criminal court.
America has the highest incarceration rate in the developed world, around 20 percent of whom are awaiting trial. Officials hope the reform will prevent unnecessary jail time for low-level offenders who cannot post bail.
“By ensuring courts are not unnecessarily bogged down with minor offenses committed by those who pose no threat to public safety, we help focus police and prosecutorial resources on those who commit serious crimes,” said Vance.
“We enable officers to get back to patrolling, investigating and keeping our neighborhoods safe. And by reducing unnecessary incarceration, we make our criminal justice system fairer for all New Yorkers,” he added.
Crime has fallen steadily in New York city, the financial and entertainment capital of the United States, since “zero tolerance” policing was introduced in the 1990s.