New York City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito is concerned that a “staggering” number of criminal summonses are issued every year for such supposedly minor offenses as public consumption of alcohol, littering, and public urination.
In 2014 alone there were more than 350,000 summonses for such offenses. Seth Barron of City Journal points out what bugs Mark-Viverito about this is possibly not what you might expect:
But what troubles Mark-Viverito about these figures isn’t the disorder that they represent but the potentially negative effects that receiving a summons can have on the lives of people who litter, drink from open containers, and urinate in public.
The New York City is on the verge of passing a package of laws that will make life easier for those who commit these offenses. While the police already only rarely arrest somebody for public drunkenness, in the future it won't be an option.
Under the new system, the maximum penalty for public drunkenness will be $25. It won't escalate if the recipient of the fine fails to pay. The penalties for public urination, littering, spitting, and violating park rules will be similarly reduced.
In arguing for these changes, Mark-Viverito describes a justice system out of Kafka’s nightmares, “in which those accused of low-level non-violent offenses . . . face a permanent criminal record or jail time for behavior as minor as violating a parks rule.” In reality, people caught violating a parks rule are almost always given verbal warnings.
Police may issue a criminal summons instructing the violator to appear before a judge. In the event that the summons is ignored, the court will issue a warrant for the violator’s arrest, which will be effected the next time he is stopped for committing an offense. He may then get locked up for a night.
The prospect of a low-level offender spending any time in jail, then, is predicated on his committing a series of antisocial violations and ignoring a court date.
Clearly, an offender isn't somebody who gets drunk one time or accidentally drops a piece of paper. He has to be somebody who habitually makes life cruder and more difficult for those around him. In the near future, there will be no recourse to dealing with such nuisances.
This is the opposite of broken windows policing. It gives people who get a kick out of destroying the social fabric a green light to do so. And you wonder why the quality of life is deteriorating these days?