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Op-Ed: Safety, Policing and The Truth About Bail Reform

Brent O’Leary speaking at a press conference on public safety in 2020. (Photo: Queens Post)

May 11, 2022 Op-Ed By Brent O’Leary, Candidate for Assembly District 37

My grandfather emigrated to America and was fortunate enough to become a New York City Police Officer. One night he was called to a bar because a customer was too drunk and unruly. Instead of arresting him, my grandfather walked the guy to his home, as the punishment he was going to get from his wife would be far worse than the night in jail.

By the time he retired, he had never fired his weapon, and he had not even finished the ticket book given to him as a rookie. He could do this and keep the neighborhood safe because he knew the neighborhood, he lived there, and there was mutual trust between my grandfather and the community.

The safety of the community and the equitable treatment of its residents must be the primary responsibility of our elected officials and law enforcement.

Unlike ever before, I am hearing an undeniable sense of worry and danger about the safety of our city right now. This fear is not unfounded: subway and bus crimes are up 53%, hate crimes are up 361%, major crimes skyrocketed by 34.2% this past month, and random assaults and shootings appear in the news daily.

If we are to make New York even safer and more vibrant than before, we must address these concerns head on.

The Truth about Bail Reform

Ideally, people who are a danger to society must be kept in jail to await trial at the discretion of a level-headed judge. New York is the only state in the country that does not allow a judge to detain a defendant who poses a threat to the community.

This is because New York is the only state that does not allow its judges to use “dangerousness” as a criterion to keep someone in jail awaiting trial–something which the other 49 other states, as well as the federal government, do.

When Mayor Adams met with leaders of the state legislature to return this authority to judges, he was immediately rebuffed. I applaud the mayor for his common-sense approach to public safety, and if elected, I would be a staunch ally in Albany to affect these critical changes.

This issue, however, is fundamentally different from cash bail. I do not think anyone should be kept in jail or released based on their ability to pay. That is not right and while I oppose cash bail, if a person is a danger to society they must be kept in jail pre-trial. I think we can agree that the person who pushed a woman down the stairs at Queens Plaza last month and then fractured her skull with a hammer is not someone who should be on the streets until trial.

I will fight for the funding to make sure they are given a trial promptly and I will draft legislation to clearly define “dangerousness” so that it is applied in a fair and unbiased manner.

Gun Reform

While campaigning in Queensbridge last summer, I was about 150 feet away from two separate shootings. That was when I realized the course we are on right now is headed straight to an unacceptable way of life for the people of NYC.

We must get guns off our streets. While New York has some of the strictest gun laws, most of the guns are flowing into New York illegally from other states. We must be allowed to go after and prosecute gun manufacturers and gun sellers who allow these guns to get onto our streets without going through New York background screenings or waiting periods.

It is only when the manufacturers and sellers know that they will be held accountable that they will implement the safeguards to prevent the flow of guns into our state.

We also need to educate and fully implement New York’s Red Flag Protection, which prevents guns being sold to those who are deemed a danger to themselves or others.

Homelessness

While homelessness is its own issue, it is also directly subsumed in these major crimes. We as a caring society need to get our mentally ill the care they need, but this will not be done at the expense of our families’ safeties.

The main causes of our homelessness crisis are our failing mental health system, substance abuse, and the economy. I will tackle these head on with mental health treatment, drug addiction counseling, and living wage jobs. I will increase funding for city mobile outreach to identify and get the homeless off our streets and subways, and into the programs they need.

Police Accountability and Re-establishing Trust with the Community

We need an effective and just police force. This is impossible without rebuilding the relationship between the NYPD and city residents.

The worst enemy of a good cop is a bad cop. They are criminals with a badge and undermine the trust that society has in police to apply the law justly. No one should have the power of the badge who is unfit to do so.

Comprehensive training and screening processes for both cadets and officers must be mandated to eliminate bias and make sure officers are trained in proper conflict resolution measures. Furthermore, this must be followed by monitoring and regular evaluations so that no one who does not have the right temperament to be a police officer can abuse their authority.

I will fight to make sure we have this rigorous training, screening and monitoring so we can re-establish this trust. I also know that police should live in the communities they serve for a period of time to better understand the community and establish trust. My grandfather and the cops of his generation are proof of that.

Accountability cuts both ways. While we must do everything to make sure the wrong people are not police, we must also hold up and acknowledge the brave officers who apply the law justly and put their lives on the line each day so that we are safe.

My opponent has said police see themselves “as soldiers in battle with communities of color,” this stereotype is wrong and only further creates distrust between the community and the police, and most critically, makes us less safe.

Brent O’Leary, Candidate for Assembly District 37 (Photo: BrentforNYC)

Root Causes

While there are urgent measures we must take to keep our neighborhoods safe, we can not ignore the root causes of crime. That means enacting comprehensive programs that deal with crime at its source: fighting the affordability crisis that drives people to crimes of necessity, investing in our schools and programs so people have a community and a way forward, providing small business relief where it is needed most so we can employ people locally and fairly, decriminalizing petty and nonviolent offenses so we are incarcerating less, and funding re-entry programs so that we are rehabilitating more.

For New York to thrive post-COVID, we must make our city safe by investing in the people who live in it. This includes social services and alternative interventions and reforming our jails and prisons.

No New Yorker should fear for their safety or for the safety of a loved one. We need to implement these common sense standards to make our streets safe.

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