Starting next week in Manhattan, you will be permitted to consume alcohol in public, go to the bathroom, litter, jump subway cars, or (did you know about this one?) take up more than a single subway seat, without being subject to arrest, The Observer reported yesterday.
People who indulge in any of these activities can still receive summonses, according to the office of the Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance Jr., but they will only result in fines, not a criminal record.
Previously, if you were caught downing a beer in public (I know, hard to imagine a human who would attempt such behavior, except for those in large swaths of the rest of the world, where this activity is encouraged), you could already receive a summons rather than be arrested, if you did not already have a warrant out for another offense (and this did happen often); but the real policy shift is that these low-level offenses will no longer lead to an arrest, even if you had a warrant out already–for example–for failing to pay a previous open container fine. You will be “detained,” in such cases, and face a judge, but you will not be arrested–i.e., you will not have a criminal record.
Similarly, if you are caught indulging in a little booze, urinating, skipping subway cars, or being all lazy, splaying yourself out across more than one measly subway seat and you already had a warrant out for a criminal act (burglary, say), NYPD will arrest you for that, but you will will only be given a summons for your latest deviant behavior; previously, you could be arrested for that, too. Now, your rap sheet will not grow with this additional low-level offense.
Adding to the message yesterday (which was not, oddly, made public with a press release, just an announcement from the DA’s office), Mayor de Blasio said in a statement that the re-focusing of NYPD time and resources will “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.”
Unfortunately, this policy will only be implemented in Manhattan to start, not in Brooklyn or any other borough. The observer points out that the single-borough change does have a precedent. The Brooklyn DA in 2014 said he would not prosecute those caught with small amounts of pot–eventually, the rest of the city followed suit.
So, let’s hope for the same thing here? I mean, I don’t exactly want to see a lot more dudes urinating on the backs of car tires, but I would enjoy knowing I could be caught having a single delightful Tecate on Brighton Beach twice, and not be considered a criminal. Not that I was ever caught doing that once.
Brooklyn DA Vance, according to the Globe, estimates this change–beginning March 7–will amount to 10,000 fewer arrests annually.