Surge in repeat offenders taxing system, says DA

Orange County DA Hoovler. File photo.

GOSHEN – Albany’s bail reform initiatives combined with unpredicted side effects of the pandemic are creating an economic burden on the judicial system, according to Orange County District Attorney David Hoovler.

When bail reforms went into effect, many low-level offenses such as petit larceny, unlicensed operation of a motor vehicle, and criminal possession of a controlled substance, no longer required bail, and offenders are now given appearance tickets.  Orange County District Attorney David Hoovler, who is also the former president of the District Attorneys’ Association of New York, said that the combination of the pandemic and bail reform are eating away at valuable resources that could be better spent fighting crime.  “The rate of recidivism because of COVID and bail reform are up dramatically,” said Hoovler on Wednesday.  Orange County’s top law enforcer said that the “unintended consequences” of bail reform are taking officers off of the streets for paperwork detail.

Hoovler said Orange County’s statistics highlight the hidden problems of bail reform.  “Arrests are down 49% for the same period in 2020 over 2019.  The rate of re-arrests, however, is skyrocketing.”  When an individual is arrested on a low-level offense, the work is more time-consuming for law enforcement than it is for the arrested.  On average, a person arrested for a minor offense is released from custody long before the officer finishes the paperwork.

From January to September 9, 2019, in Orange County, the number of people re-arrested (recidivism) was 302.  For the same period this year, the number increased 247% to 1,049.  Hoovler said the more alarming figures are those for people arrested three or more times.  For the January to September period of 2019, the County dealt with 24 individuals.  In 2020, that number skyrocketed to 397 people, an increase of 1654%.

Hoovler pointed out that individuals arrested for low-level crimes place an increased burden on the police, prosecutors, and the judicial system as a whole.  “The arrest, processing, release, re-arrest cycle “Is eating up resources of law enforcement and is an unintended consequence of bail reform,” said the prosecutor.  “88% of people arrested on ‘bail-eligible’ offenses are having bail set,” said Hoovler, adding that “The revolving door of low-level arrests are the problem.” Hoovler also said that the lack of funding from Albany exacerbates the issue.  The state passed the reforms without taking into account the added burdens on police and prosecutors.

In the City of Newburgh, an embattled department facing manpower shortfalls, Chief Butch Amthor is dealing with the added burden.  With a department down to 64 officers due to transfers and retirements, the department is short-staffed.  “Bail reform, coupled with a revolving-door arrest system is taking officers off of the street for processing, instead of fighting crime,” said Amthor.

Citing the added paperwork created by bail reform, Amthor said “Staff is being pulled from the patrol division to assist in complying with the shortened evidence discovery timeframes.”  With officers pulled from policing to process paperwork, Amthor said complaints regarding quality of life issues, low-level drug offenses, and other issues a fully-staffed department would address are not possible with current staff levels and added burdens imposed by the state.  “Hours and hours of manhours are tied up in the new discovery guidelines and that takes officers off of the street,” said Amthor.