NEW YORK - New York City Police Commissioner Dermot Shea sounded off on the state's criminal justice system and reiterated his frequent calls for legal changes that would help the NYPD get guns off the street.
"We’re arresting someone for pushing a woman down the stairs and we’re releasing them back into the streets," said Shea Tuesday. "This is craziness."
Another example stems from a brutal and unprovoked attack on an Asian woman in Chinatown on Monday. Police arrested Alexander Wright, 48, for the assault. He already has a long rap sheet.
Records show Wright has been arrested at least 17 times. The arrests were for multiple assaults including an attack on a 72-year-old man, spitting on a woman's face, and punching a police officer, a police source told FOX 5.
In fact, Wright was just released on Thursday after a crime spree which included throwing hot coffee on two NYPD traffic agents, scratching a man in the eye, and breaking the glass on a Madison Avenue storefront, all on the same day.
"We cannot be chasing our tail, catch and release, catch and release," said Shea.
"Whether this individual needs mental health services, jail time or both, the answer cannot be to put him right back on the street," the police union added in a tweet.
The recent high-profile cases are raising questions about the state's year-and-a-half-old bail reform law. Shea and other critics of the bail reform law, which eliminated cash bail for many classes of defendants went into effect last year, say it has enabled repeat offenders.
"In my opinion, they really blew up the whole system we had without thinking about some of the consequences," said John Flynn, the Democratic District Attorney of Erie County who is also the Vice President of the District Attorneys Association of the State of New York.
Flynn believes judges in New York should have the authority to decide if a defendant poses a danger when weighing whether to set bail, something for which New Jersey's bail reform law allows.
"There are ways we can give judges more discretion quite frankly to set bail," he said.
But proponents of the bail reform law say it's not the source of the problem. And in Wright's case, he was held on bail on his most recent offenses, before being released last week.
"The problem is we have high unemployment, we have high homelessness, we have a lot of people with mental health issues and no supportive systems for them whatsoever," said Stanley Fritz, the New York state political and campaigns director at Citizens Action, a group that advocated strongly for bail reform.
He points out the law was already amended last year to broaden the list of crimes for which judges can set bail.
"The New York State Legislature went and updated the bail law and they did that despite a lot of push back from advocates from groups like mine and others, so that it is easier to remand people," he said. "It's not the bail problem."