Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg has apologized for ‘confusion’ over his new policies downgrading many felony charges, but is not backing down from his stance despite weeks of criticism.
In remarks on Thursday at an NYU School of Law virtual conference, Bragg blamed poor ‘messaging’ and communication for the backlash over his stance downgrading many charges and declining to seek prison terms for all but the most serious crimes.
‘I take full accountability for that confusion caused by the memo,’ he said of his January 3 policy memo, which drew harsh criticism from NYPD Commissioner Keechant Sewell, among others.
‘[It] left many New Yorkers justifiably concerned for how we will keep them safe,’ he added, claiming the public was just confused by the dense legalistic language of the memo.
‘I’ve got a lot to learn about comms and messaging,’ Bragg conceded. ‘Lesson learned.’
Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg has apologized for ‘confusion’ over his new policies downgrading many felony charges, but is not backing down
New York City is currently experiencing soaring crime rates and an increase in shooting incidents not seen since the mid-2000s
Bragg’s controversial ‘Day One’ policy memo instructed his office to stop prosecuting low-level offenses including marijuana misdemeanors, prostitution, resisting arrest and fare dodging.
He also instructed prosecutors to stop seeking prison sentences for all crimes except for homicides, assaults resulting in serious injury, domestic violence felonies, sex offenses, public corruption, and ‘major economic crimes’.
Aside from the same list of offenses, Bragg’s prosecutors have also been told not to seek bail requirements for suspects awaiting trial.
The memo also outlines a number of circumstances in which charges should be downgraded, including certain cases of armed robbery, burglary and drug dealing.
Bragg confirmed in his remarks on Thursday that his office would not downgrade armed robbery cases in which a firearm is used.
‘Let me be clear,’ he said, ‘any use of a gun to rob a store by definition is and must be and will be treated seriously.’
This clarified language in the memo which called for downgrading cases in which ‘the force or threat of force consists of displaying a dangerous instrument or similar behavior but does not create a genuine risk of physical harm.’
The new policies fulfilled Bragg’s campaign promise to reduce incarceration and pursue progressive prosecutorial policies, but drew sharp backlash from critics who argued that the lenient approach would only encourage crime.
Newly appointed NYPD Commissioner Keechant Sewell was the latest opponent to the policy changes, which she said left officers, businesses and the general public vulnerable to crime
Earlier this month, Sewell, the city’s first black female commissioner, sent an email to NYPD officers saying she’s concerned about the effects Bragg’s sweeping changes.
‘I have studied these policies and I am very concerned about the implications to your safety as police officers, the safety of the public and justice for the victims,’ Sewell wrote in the email obtained by the New York Post .
Sewell wrote that among her biggest concerns included Bragg’s refusal to prosecute resisting arrest charges unless they part of a larger felony case.
She feared the decision would ‘invite violence against police officers and will have deleterious effects on our relationship with the communities we protect.’
On Thursday, Bragg faced tough grilling from New York attorneys and the media over his new policies.
‘First, the purpose of the memo is to provide prosecutors with a framework for how to approach cases in the best interest of safety and justice. Each case is fact specific,’ he said.
‘We will be prosecuting all robberies of a gun as a felon. Let me be clear. Any use of a gun to rob a store by definition is and must be and will be treated seriously,’ he insisted.
‘Violence against police officers will not be tolerated,’ Bragg said.
‘If you push or hit an officer or attempt to do so or attempt to harm an officer in another way, you will be prosecuted, held accountable. Public safety will be paramount and will always have primacy in my office.’
Developing story, more to follow.
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