Criminal Justice

Lawmakers debate bail reform and gun violence at public safety hearing

State legislators asked state law enforcement leaders about the impact of bail reform and how to keep guns out of children’s hands.

The New York State Assembly Chamber

The New York State Assembly Chamber Dennis Macdonald / Getty Images

On Thursday, state lawmakers had bail reform and guns on the brain during a joint budget hearing on public safety, as they quizzed a panel of law enforcement and corrections officials about the dip in violent crime and what is being done to stem the proliferation of firearms and associated violence in New York.

In the years since the passage of bail reform laws, conservative lawmakers and public safety hawks have warned that the reforms will lead to increased violence and called for the laws to be repealed. Those scars have not been forgotten as the state Legislature prepares to debate Gov. Kathy Hochul’s executive budget proposal for the upcoming fiscal year.

Democratic Assembly Member Jeffrey Dinowitz asked Rossana Rosado, commissioner of the New York State Division of Criminal Justice Services, why bail reform hadn’t led to a precipitous spike in crime as many Republicans had feared. 

“As far as I know, we didn't repeal bail reform,” Dinowitz said. “And yet, crime is going down, even though we still have bail reform. Now, the police are doing a very good job and that's one reason why that's happening. But could it be that as the pandemic has ebbed, so has crime in many cases?”

Rosado first deferred to academic studies on crime before telling lawmakers, “there isn't a big difference in terms of people returning to court or being rearrested. We have been able to do both things, to implement bail reform and to see historic declines in crime.”

“The sky is not falling,” added state Sen. Jamaal Bailey.

The hearing also addressed gun violence and how it could be prevented. Assistant Deputy State Police Superintendent Christopher West said that police had seized 1,316 illegal guns in 2023, a 159% increase compared to 2018. 

Both Rosado and lawmakers emphasized the importance of preventing children from obtaining guns.

“In Binghamton,” Rosado said, “the police chief said, ‘I just arrested a nine-year-old with a gun’ and I said, ‘Chief, when you arrest a nine-year-old with a gun, there are like 10 adults that you should be investigating.’” 

State Sen. Zellnor Myrie also spoke about the importance of starting gun violence prevention early. “Our hope and my hope, certainly is that on the afterschool programs front, that we can expand it and expand it substantially because it has proven to be a tool to bring down crime,” he said. 

Bailey, who has proposed expanding funding for SNUG, a community violence outreach program, asked Rosado whether she felt the program had enough money. 

“We could always use more money, but we feel that we've invested the money that we've received and we're ready to act on the $20 million this year. We have great plans,” said Rosado. 

Hochul’s current budget proposal would cut public safety spending by roughly $77 million or 0.5%. Budget hearings will continue as the Legislature prepares for more serious deliberations in the spring. 

But in both her State of the State address and her executive budget proposal, Gov. Kathy Hochul has emphasized the need to address public safety, often singling out retail theft as one of her key targets. On Thursday, state legislators expressed concern about rising reports of retail-based crime and the panel and asked West, the state police deputy superintendent, to explain – without “giving away secrets” – what law enforcement intended to do about the problem.

“We have a plan,” West said, declining to go into specifics. “There's certain areas that certainly are being impacted more than others.