Public Drinking, Other Minor Offenses, Decriminalized in Manhattan

By Victoria Kim 03/04/16

The goal of the initiative is to allow police to focus on serious crimes.

Public Drinking, Other Minor Offenses, Decriminalized in Manhattan
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Public drinking has been decriminalized in New York City’s busiest borough.

City officials announced on Tuesday that low-level criminal offenses like drinking in public, public urination and littering will no longer lead to arrests or prosecution in Manhattan. Instead, offenders will receive a summons and be ordered to pay a fine.

The “innovative” initiative, which will take effect on March 7, will ensure that the courts “are not unnecessarily bogged down with minor offenses,” said Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance Jr. in a statement. It is estimated to divert 10,000 cases that would otherwise go through Manhattan Criminal Court every year. The reforms will “help focus police and prosecutorial resources on those who commit serious crimes,” said Vance.

“By giving cops the discretion to issue summonses instead of requiring them to make arrests, we ensure they do not spend hours processing cases as minor as littering, and we enable officers to get back to patrolling, investigating, and keeping our neighborhoods safe,” said Vance.

Various subway offenses including riding between cars, taking up more than one seat, and putting one’s feet on the seat, are also included in the initiative.

A 2014 report by the NY Daily News showed that the overwhelming majority of summonses issued by the NYPD citywide were to black and Hispanic men. Between 2001 and 2013, about 81% of the 7.3 million people who received violations were black and Hispanic. Alcohol consumption was the most common offense. 

In 2015, Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito proposed a plan to decriminalize several minor offenses including public drinking, fare-beating, riding a bicycle on a sidewalk, and being in a park after hours—as they disproportionately impact poor and minority New Yorkers. 

At the time, Police Commissioner Bill Bratton warned that Mark-Viverito’s proposal could open “Pandora’s box” to the possibility for the crime-ravaged 1970s and 1980s to “come roaring back again.”

But regarding the new policy that will take effect next week, Bratton said it will “save valuable police resources” without “jeopardizing the public safety.”

In February, Mark-Viverito announced legislation to grant amnesty for nearly half of the city’s 1.5 million outstanding warrants for low-level crimes such as public drinking, disorderly conduct, violating parks rules, idling a motor vehicle, littering, public urination, and excessive noise.

In response to Tuesday’s announcement, a spokesman for Mark-Viverito told DNAinfo, “With our partners in the community, government and law enforcement, we can create a safe city where the penalties also fit the crime.”

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Victoria is interested in anything that has to do with how mind-altering substances impact society. Find Victoria on LinkedIn or Tumblr