Criminal justice reactionaries are coming out in full force against newly-inaugurated Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg, a rising progressive star, who recently announced new policies to reduce mass incarceration.
It all began days ago when Bragg released a memo outlining how he wanted his office to no longer prosecute people for a range of minor offenses, including marijuana misdemeanors and prostitution. The memo also instructs staff to pursue less serious charges on other types of cases like those involving “a non-firearm weapon,” certain types of burglaries and resisting arrest. The hope, according to Bragg, is that justice might be served in a less punitive way involving more supportive services aimed at making sure people do not reoffend.
That means political war as far as his growing number of critics are concerned. Conservative voices near and far are accusing him of violating his oath of office. All of the Republican candidates are calling on Gov. Kathy Hochul to remove him from office through an obscure state law. A union representing NYPD detectives is even pushing the governor to appoint a special prosecutor to charge people in the meantime.
“District Attorney Bragg was elected to enforce the law, not to make new law,” reads a letter sent to the governor on Jan. 12 from the Detectives’ Endowment Association, which represents thousands of active and retired members of the NYPD. “D.A. Bragg's failure to enforce the New York State Penal Law under these circumstances is a violation of his oath of office that calls for you to appoint a Special Prosecutor where warranted to prosecute these crimes.”
The letter from the detectives’ union to Hochul is the latest sign of how forces opposed to criminal justice reforms are trying to transform Bragg into a political liability for Democrats less than two weeks after he began his term in office. That is hardly enough time to collect good data on the overall benefits and costs of his new policies, but that has not stopped his critics from highlighting how anecdotal evidence alone means that Hochul should take the unprecedented action of removing a duly elected district attorney. A representative of the union could not be reached for additional comment by publication time.
A recent robbery of a drugstore in Manhattan is the lone specific example detailed in the letter to the governor. The New York Post reported Tuesday that a 40-something man allegedly grabbed merchandise valued at $2,209 from a Manhattan store while brandishing a pocket knife. He then fled the scene but returned later to get more stuff. Police subsequently arrested him and charged him with first-degree robbery and criminal possession of a weapon, according to the Post. The man was later charged with minor offenses that included second-degree menacing. “Bragg threw out what should have been a clear case of brazen robbery and grand larceny,” the letter added. Thus, he is a “disgrace,” according to the detectives’ union and likeminded critics of the district attorney.
All of this has somehow become Hochul’s problem – which also means that it is a wider problem for the Democratic Party she leads in the state. A section of the public officer’s law does allow a governor to remove elected officials following an investigation. Critics of former New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio cited the law when they called for her predecessor to remove de Blasio during civil unrest in the summer of 2020. Hochul – a Democrat who has built her political brand in office largely on the idea of not meddling with local decision-making – appears unlikely to remove Bragg to say the least. “Governor Hochul is focused on working with Mayor Adams and other elected officials on issues of public safety and protecting communities,” gubernatorial spokesperson Hazel Crampton-Hays said in an email following a request for comment on the letter from the detectives. Democratic Rep. Tom Suozzi has called for Hochul to convene New York City district attorneys to discuss Bragg’s prosecutorial approach.
Republicans and their allies in law enforcement meanwhile are continuing to assail a range of criminal justice reforms implemented by Democrats in recent years. Their criticism of Bragg’s new policies follow years of attacking limits on cash bail and other efforts toward “ending the ‘Stone Age’ of criminal justice” in the Empire State. Republican legislators highlighted efforts Wednesday aimed at undoing all of that amid an uptick of violent crimes in recent years. Their ability to leverage such issues – whatever the levels of intellectural honesty involved – to win elections is not in dispute. Bragg – who did not respond to a request for comment by publication time – is just their latest target and Republicans are doing whatever they can to use him to criticize other Democrats despite the occasional ironies of their stated focus on law and order.
“The DA is refusing to do his job so Kathy Hochul must do hers and use her explicit constitutional authority to remove Alvin Bragg,” Rep. Lee Zeldin – a Republican candidate for governor who voted against impeaching former President Donald Trump over a litany of misconduct allegations – said in a press release. “Her pathetic silence is deafening!” Zeldin said in a press release..