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Bail Reform Two Years On: How is the Law Affecting Communities in The Bronx?

Since cash bail was eliminated for non-violent felonies and misdemeanors in 2019, debate has raged in New York about the impact the reform has had on communities in the city. 

The law came into effect on January 1, 2020, then adapted a few months later, in an attempt to reduce pretrial detention and reduce the number of people incarcerated because they could not afford to pay bail. Instead, judges could only enforce measures which would ensure the defendant returned to court.

The move away from cash bail was lauded as a positive move among advocate groups like the New York Civil Liberties Union who maintain that “wealth should not determine liberty.” Monetary restrictions no longer determine whether or not a defendant can be released. However, in the Bronx, some members of the community view bail reform in a different light.

Janet Jimenez, manager of Bronx Terminal Market, which is located a minute’s walk from Grand Concourse in the South Bronx, attributes her troubles with reoffending shoplifters to the changed bail reform law. One man has been caught shoplifting “maybe 38 or 40 times,” she said, and “nothing happens to him.”

“They call it a petty larceny only fourth-degree misdemeanor and let him go.”

According to NYPD data, incidents of petty larceny in the 44th precinct, where the Bronx Terminal Market is located, have increased by approximately almost 27% in the last two years.

When asked whether she noticed a change once bail reform was introduced, Jimenez responded “of course, immediately.” Jimenez has identified the people who have been repeatedly arrested for shoplifting in the shopping complex and said she brought it to the attention of authorities in an effort to highlight the levels of re-offense. She insists that something needs to change.

“If you are a repetitive offender of the law, no matter what you do, something has to happen to you,” Jimenez said.

Other businesses say they are facing similar problems. “It’s killing us,” said Lesley Bunn, an Asset Protection Supervisor of Burlington Stores in the South Bronx.

“When I confront the shoplifters and say I’m going to call the police they say ‘so what I’ll be back in three hours,” Bunn said. “They have no fear of consequences because there’s no consequences”. 

Police data show that in 2020, 19.5% of offenders who committed a crime that would no longer qualify for bail, were re-arrested at last once after their first arrest. In 2019 it was 17.3%. The same set of data reveals that for the same group, 26% of people arrested for burglary in 2020 were arrested within 30 days for another offense. In 2019 this number was 10%.

However Miriam Popper, a Senior Advisor at New York City Criminal Justice Agency believes it isn’t possible to draw out the true impacts of bail reform just yet. “We’ve seen bail reform play out in other cities and states where outcomes stayed the same or improved,” she said. 

Illinois, Texas, Kentucky and Philadelphia, for instance, have maintained stable re-arrest rates since bail reform laws were introduced, according to the Center for American Progress

 It’s currently too difficult to analyze the impact bail reform has had on New York, Popper said.

“It will take a while to pull apart the effects of bail reform in New York and everything else that happened in 2020,” she said.

It may be reductionist to suggest that there is a cause and effect relationship between bail reform and crime rates. When considering the increase in crime it is important to take into consideration that there are other factors involved such as the “distress caused by the pandemic and the wake of the pandemic,” said Jeremy Cherson, a Senior Policy Advisor at the Bail Project. The Bail Project is a non-profit organization that helps to pay bail for people in need.

However, Cherson pointed out that there has been no specific evidence which reveals a link between bail reform and levels of crime and recidivism. A statement that is also made on the NYCLU website.

“The things that people are experiencing in the Bronx and New York City are things that are being experienced across the United States,” he said.

At a national level, data from the Federal Bureau of Investigation and local police departments shows that crime has increased since the pandemic, across the country. In New York, according to police data released in July, city wide gun arrests through that month were at a 27 year high. Even arrests for major felonies, which have not been impacted by bail reform laws, have increased by almost 29% by July 2022 compared with the same period in 2021.

Jimenez said she recognised the difficult circumstances that people were plunged into during the pandemic, but remains passionate about enacting change.

“It’s tough for me,” she said. “It’s demoralizing.

“It gets me upset, mad sometimes.”

Jimenez spoke about how the community felt fearful yet she remained at a loss to know who to contact in order to articulate her views.

Bunn said she knew the police were “doing their part” but believed the problem had to be dealt with at a higher level. 

“What is it going to take? “How do you stop the bleeding?” she asked. 

The fear is not unique, people in the city have expressed concerns over the level of crime. But Cherson insists that fears may be exacerbated by the rhetoric in public discussions of crime and public safety, particularly with regard to bail reform and re offenders. 

“There’s a lot of fear mongering,” said Cherson. “I understand where they are coming from,” but “if you talk to a mom who has an 18 year-old Black son in the Bronx she might have a very different perspective,” Cherson said.

Mayor Adams “is doing an injustice to the members of the Bronx community by talking about it in a totally inaccurate way,” Cherson said.

“When the mayor of the largest city in the country is using his bully pulpit to talk about it as if this is the thing, people are going to feel like it’s a thing,” he said.

Adams has been outspoken about his feelings on bail reform. In a press conference on August 3rd he called the system in its current form “broken,” and “insane.” Despite revisions to the bail reform already being implemented, Adams is pushing for further rollbacks saying it would be a “mistake” for judges not to be able to consider someone’s threat to public safety when choosing to hold them in custody or not.

Posted in Bronx Neighborhoods0 Comments

Bronx District Attorney Holds Annual 5k for Domestic Violence Awareness

Bronx District Attorney Darcel D. Clark speaking to the crowd at the annual 5k Run/Walk/Jog. Imogen McNamara for the Bronx Ink.

More than 500 people registered for the Bronx District Attorney’s annual 5k Run/Walk/Jog event last Saturday, as part of Domestic Violence Awareness Month. It was the highest number since the event was created 5 years ago.

Bronx District Attorney Darcel D. Clark addressed the crowd which she called a “sea of purple” as attendees dressed in the color in recognition of Domestic Violence Awareness Month. 

“We are here for the victims and those survivors of domestic violence,”  Clark said.

“It’s a problem that has plagued us our city, our country and in this Borough,” she said.

NYPD data shows that in 2021, there were more than 34,000 cases of domestic violence reported across the city. Over 9,500  were in the Bronx.

Clark thanked survivors who had turned to advocacy, turning their “pain into purpose.” “No matter how somebody else tries to make you feel, you can rise above that, because you are better than that.”  

Clark recognized the life of Police Officer Arianna Reyes-Gomez who was stabbed to death in her home last June. Reyes-Gomez’s estranged husband has been charged with murder in connection with her death. Her family attended the event in her memory. Speeches were also made by two survivors of domestic violence. 

Bronx Borough President Vanessa Gibson was in attendance and called the crowd into cheers and clapping as she proclaimed, “we will rise beyond domestic and gender-based violence.”

Survivors are “not victims of their circumstance, but they are victors of their circumstance,” she said.

Stalls were set up around the event representing support groups for domestic and gender-based violence. “It’s not only an event to support but it’s to educate,” said Adrianna Barona, a representative from the Bronx District Attorney’s Office. “It allows victims to come out and feel supported,” she said.

The event “highlights the chronic problem we have in the Bronx with domestic violence,” Barona said. The Bronx has particularly high chronic domestic violence complaints according to government data, contributing to over 28% of citywide chronic domestic violence complaints.

The Bronx DA emphasized the importance of relying on the community “we have to,” she said. “They are the ones that meet people where they are,” she said. They “give them the hope that they need to bring them to us to give them the strength to report.”

Clark, Gibson, the family of Reyes-Gomez and Commissioner stood in solidarity on the start line as Clark cut the ceremonious ribbon and the crowd set off.

The Office of the Bronx Borough President relaunched the Domestic Violence Advisory Council earlier in the month as part of the effort to combat domestic and gender-based violence. This, along with the $1 million federal grant issued to the Bronx by the Department of Justice earlier this month will assist with resources for those affected by domestic violence over the course of the next three years.

Posted in Bronx Neighborhoods0 Comments

Disruption and Delay: Ongoing Transit Issues Continue to Cause Problems for River Park Towers Residents

River Park Towers located in the Morris Heights area, West Bronx. Imogen McNamara for The Bronx Ink.

River Park Towers, a housing complex located in Morris Heights in the West Bronx, is home to more than 1,500 rental units. About 7 miles from Manhattan, the dual building complex is sandwiched between the Harlem River and the Major Deegan Expressway, with little else around it.  Residents of the 428ft tall buildings have relative access to one grocery store, one school and one subway station. 

“You have to leave an hour and a half, maybe two, early to get to where you got to go,” said Shandia Vasquez, who has lived in the area for six years.

The nearest subway station is 176th street, almost a mile’s walk from the towers. Though the Metro-North railroad station is nearby and ridership is on a general upwards trend, numbers are still only at 44% of pre-pandemic levels. The community is also located on a steep incline, and so the bus system has become a crucial alternative for residents’ commutes.

There are three main routes that run through the community—the Bx18, Bx40 and Bx4. They are scheduled to arrive every 15-20 minutes during weekdays. But the demand on these routes within the Morris Heights neighborhood is high which has made relying on the service a challenge for some residents. 

According to New York City Transit Data, the Bx40/42 had a ridership of 10,399 on an average weekday in 2021, making it one of the more populous routes in the Bronx.

“It will tell you some time and then the bus that comes is not in service” said Charleilys Vierea, a student at Lehman College. “Even if you come early or late to the stop, it’s still passing.” 

The Bx18 bus stop opposite the River Park towers complex. Imogen McNamara for The Bronx Ink.

Limited access to public transport is not a new issue for the occupants of the towers. A 2014 report from the New York City Department of Planning called the area “an isolated community”, citing the Metro-North rail corridor and the Major Deegan expressway as contributing factors, as they separate the community from the upland region. The report noted an ‘island effect’ between the community and the rest of the Morris Heights, an issue which persists today.

“The MTA is one of the best public transportation systems in the world,” said Tyreke Israel said, Deputy Chief of Staff for City Council District 16. “And that’s a horrible statement to say”.

 The community is a “transit desert,” he said. 

In the West Bronx, near River Park Towers, the MTA recently created new bus schedules and changed routes which were implemented this June in an effort to improve the reliability, speed and frequency of the service. 

“The redesign plan included a robust consultation process that incorporated the comments of elected officials, community organizations and riders,” MTA spokesperson Kayla Shuts said in an email.

Despite these changes, residents in the neighborhood say they continue to face problems on their commutes.

Vasquez said her son, who relies on the bus service to get to school, has to wake up two hours before the school day begins, and still sometimes arrives late.

Thinking about the months ahead, Vierea is worried about overcrowding on public transportation. 

“More people are gonna be on the buses and then it’s gonna become packed,” she said. “I’ll have to wait for the next one and the next one.” 

She is not alone. As the city moves towards colder months, temperature drops are cause for concern as commuters wait outdoors for public transportation.

Israel highlighted how difficult it is to overcome long-standing problems for the River Park Towers community. “It’s been this way for years,” he said. “Transportation deserts are a generational thing.”

Posted in Bronx Neighborhoods, Front Page0 Comments