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Press Releases

Cyrus R. Vance, Jr.

District Attorney, New York County

For Immediate Release
March 01, 2016


Under the Joint Initiative, More Than 10,000 New Yorkers Will Be Issued Summonses for Low-Level Offenses Each Year Instead of Being Arrested and Processed, Freeing Up Law Enforcement Resources and Lessening the Burden on Those Who Commit Minor Offenses

Manhattan DA’s Office Will Still Prosecute All Penal Law Violations, As Well As Non-Penal Law Violations or Infractions Involving Drugs, Weapons, and Vehicular Offenses

Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus R. Vance, Jr., New York City Police Department Commissioner William J. Bratton, and Mayor Bill de Blasio today announced a new initiative to change how individuals who commit low-level offenses are processed in Manhattan. Beginning on Monday, March 7, 2016, the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office will no longer prosecute most violations or infractions, and the NYPD will no longer arrest individuals who commit these offenses – such as littering, public consumption of alcohol, or taking up two seats on the subway – unless there is a demonstrated public safety reason to do so. This initiative will enable the NYPD to devote its resources to investigating serious crimes, while further reducing the backlog of cases in Criminal Court. The issuance of summonses instead of arrests is expected to result in the diversion of approximately 10,000 arrests that would be prosecuted in Manhattan Criminal Court.

Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus R. Vance, Jr., said: “Through this initiative, we are devoting our resources to best protect and serve New Yorkers. By ensuring courts are not unnecessarily bogged down with minor offenses committed by those who pose no threat to public safety, we help focus police and prosecutorial resources on those who commit serious crimes. 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. And by reducing unnecessary incarceration, we make our criminal justice system fairer for all New Yorkers.”

NYPD Commissioner William J. Bratton said: “This new policy in Manhattan will save valuable police resources. Police officers can now quickly return a person to court on a warrant and, at the same time, adjudicate their current summonsable offense, all without jeopardizing the public safety.”

Mayor Bill de Blasio said: “Using summonses instead of arrests for low-level offenses is an intuitive and modern solution that will help make sure resources are focused on our main priority: addressing threats to public safety. Today’s reforms allow our hardworking police officers to concentrate their efforts on the narrow group of individuals driving violent crime in New York City. This plan will also help safely prevent unnecessary jail time for low-level offenses.”

New York State Chief Administrative Judge Lawrence K. Marks said: “This is a common sense approach that will reduce the borough’s overburdened Criminal Court docket without compromising public safety. As a result, it will better enable the Criminal Court to devote its limited resources to the handling of more serious offenses, improving outcomes in those cases. I commend District Attorney Vance and Commissioner Bratton for their wisdom in taking this important step.”

Elizabeth Glazer, Director of the Mayor’s Office of Criminal Justice, said: “New York City continues to prove that we can have both more safety and fewer arrests. Thanks to DA Vance and his team for both their leadership in taking this important and bold step forward and for their cooperative problem solving with the many agency partners necessary to realize success. This approach will further the work to calibrate enforcement accurately to the specific situation and ensure that public safety resources are targeted toward the few individuals driving this City’s crime.”

Background on Criminal Summonses in New York City 

Currently, NYPD patrol officers determine whether those who commit low-level violations or infractions (not misdemeanors), such as public urination, littering, and various subway offenses, will be arrested and processed, or conversely, receive a criminal summons requiring them to appear at a later date in Summons Appearance Parts, located in the Criminal Court building at 346 Broadway in Lower Manhattan, and in Midtown Community Court at 314 West 54th Street.

In some scenarios, current policy dictates that NYPD officers may not issue criminal summonses for these low-level offenses, and must place offenders under arrest. For instance, individuals found to have an open summons warrant on their record must be arrested and processed, even if the new offense is a violation-level offense. More than 1.1 million New Yorkers have open summons warrants for failing to appear at their specified return date. Currently, if any of those individuals commits another violation, NYPD officers do not have the option of issuing him or her a summons; the individual must be placed under arrest. 

Manhattan’s Innovative Summons Initiative

Beginning on Monday, March 7, 2016, unless necessary for public safety reasons, the NYPD will no longer arrest individuals who commit these low-level offenses in Manhattan, and the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office will no longer prosecute most infractions or violations, including:

  • Public Consumption of Alcohol
  • Public Urination
  • Various subway offenses, such as Riding Between Cars, Taking Up More Than One Seat, Feet on the Seat  

Should an NYPD officer determine that the public is best served by arresting an individual who would ordinarily receive a criminal summons, that officer will still have the option to do so. Additionally, the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office will continue to prosecute all penal law violations, including: 

  • Disorderly Conduct
  • Trespassing 
  • Loitering
  • Harassment in the Second Degree

The Manhattan District Attorney’s Office will also continue to prosecute non-penal law violations or infractions involving drugs, vehicular offenses, and weapons, including: 

  • Leaving the Scene Without Reporting Property Damage
  • Driving While Impaired
  • Unlicensed Driving
  • Possession of Knives Greater than Four Inches
  • Possession of Knives Outside of Clothing
  • Possession and Sale of Synthetic Cannabinoids

Under the new initiative – which was developed jointly by the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office and NYPD in full consultation with the Office of Court Administration over the past year – if an individual receiving a criminal summons is found to have an open summons warrant or another New York County warrant, he or she will not be placed under arrest and processed, but instead, will be taken directly to one of the Arraignment Parts of the Manhattan Criminal Courts Building at 100 Centre Street to face a judge on both the summons matter and outstanding warrant. Public defenders will be available to provide counsel to those who cannot afford representation. 

Additionally, under this initiative, if a summons recipient is unable to produce a photo ID, he or she will not automatically be arrested. Instead, that individual will be taken to a precinct and given time to have someone bring their identification and, after doing so, may leave with a criminal summons requiring their appearance in the Summons Appearance Part at a later date.