New York City Council May Ease Enforcement of Laws on Public Urination

Henry Goldman, Bloomberg, January 21, 2016

Urinating and drinking in public would no longer be treated as crimes under a package of bills New York’s City Council will consider to ease enforcement of quality-of-life offenses that lawmakers say clog the courts and have been disproportionately enforced against minorities.

The council scheduled a Jan. 25 hearing on the proposed laws, which are supported by Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito, a majority of her 50 colleagues and Police Commissioner Bill Bratton. The proposal would remove the possibility of permanent criminal records for public urination and violating park rules, mostly treating them as civil offenses, along with public drinking, littering and excessive noise.

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Bratton agreed to support the proposed laws after extensive negotiations with council members, the mayor and “other concerned partners in the New York City criminal justice system,” said Stephen Davis, a police spokesman. The bills represent “a fair and operationally reasonable way to address many of the issues,” he said in an e-mail.

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According to a City Council policy memorandum prepared for its members, the laws’ intent is to “ bring penalties in line with offenses and drastically reduce the number of warrants, all while maintaining a meaningful and proportional enforcement of quality of life offenses.” The police department would retain control over when officers should issue a civil or criminal penalty for public urination or park-rules violations, each of which are crimes under state law, according to the bills.

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