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Officials blast ‘misguided’ criminal justice reforms coming Jan. 1, 2020

‘Extreme, Disgusting, And Disturbing’: Officials Use Strong Language As Criminal Justice Reforms Loom

By Josh Durso

Officials gathered in Canandaigua to publicly push back against criminal justice reforms set to take hold on January 1st.

Senator Pam Helming (R-Canandaigua), Assemblyman Brian Manktelow (R-Lyons), Ontario County District Attorney Jim Ritts, Cayuga County Sheriff Brian Schenck, and others held a press conference to speak out about dissatisfaction with the changes.

“These ‘reforms’ were rushed by New York State with virtually no input from law enforcement agencies or crime victims advocates. Already, there are numerous examples across the state of suspects who would be detained under current law, but by January 1, 2020, will be free to go,” Sen. Helming said.

The two changes prosecutors, law enforcement, and officials have raised concerns over involve cash bail and pre-trial detention changes, as well as a series of changes coming to timeline of discovery.

“This creates serious safety concerns for our law abiding citizens and simply put, is a public safety nightmare. It is now more important than ever that we speak out and work together to halt the implementation of these so-called reforms. We must push for real measures that protect crime victims and hold criminals responsible for their actions,” Sen. Helming added.

District Attorney Jim Ritts says that smaller counties in Upstate New York weren’t given enough consideration when this was moved through the budget process last session.

“It would appear in all respects that this legislation was pushed through the budget process with virtually no consideration given to the smaller counties. The majority of the counties outside of New York City do not have large staff – some as few as one full-time Assistant,” Ritts said. “At no point was the position of prosecutors considered in establishing these so called reforms.”

Ritts elaborated on a set of circumstances he says could play out:

“As January 1, 2020 looms, a defendant charged with a home invasion burglary will be arraigned, can tell the Court he has absolutely no intention of returning to Court where he faces fifteen years in prison, indicates he will absolutely not abide by an Order of Protection and the Court has to release this person. When he does not appear as he promised he would not, the court has to wait 48 hours to issue a warrant, what is considered a 48 hour head start, and when he is arrested and brought back to Court – because he only missed one Court date – he gets released AGAIN without bail.”

Ritts says New York State should take a step back.

Ontario County Sheriff Kevin Henderson outlined his own concerns, which could impact the way law enforcement operates. “I support that the determination of release should be left to the Judges and Magistrates in the State of New York. Public safety dictates that we must allow courts to determine whether someone will pose a threat to our communities,” Henderson said as part of a statement.

Meanwhile, Seneca County Sheriff Tim Luce pushed back against calling the changes ‘reforms’. “I don’t think I have ever seen legislation this unbalanced masquerading as reform,” he said. “There is nothing in this legislation for victims or public safety.”

Sheriff Luce says the changes will empower criminals, create new unfunded mandates, take away consequences for ignoring the legal system, stifle victims, and restrict the ability of police and prosecutor to maintain public safety.

Mike Calarco, Wayne County District Attorney said the new legislation creates an ‘unbalanced playing field’. “The forgotten voices that have not been heard are the victims of crimes who have to fear for their protection. Imagine being the victim of a violent crime and running in to the person who violated you out in public. There is little doubt that some criminal cases may end up being dismissed, which is a very bad message to send to victims and their families,” he said. “The legislature should have sought input from those of us who work within the system every day. If change was required, it should have been done gradually and with all the stakeholders at the table. In the two years that I have been in office, I have not seen the level of stress and anxiety in my staff as I have over the last few months.”

Echoing those concerns, Geneva Police Chief Michael Passalacqua said the reform puts an ‘extreme’ burden on law enforcement. “Our workload is going to increase drastically, which will unfortunately cost tax payers more money. The State of New York has not, and will not fund local municipalities for the upcoming changes,” he explained. “I am dissatisfied with the changes, and truly wish that no one in our community or the State of New York is a victim of a crime. Being a victim on or after January 1, 2020 will now be that much more difficult than ever before.”

Seneca Falls Police Chief Stuart Peenstra said he was ‘disgusted’ and ‘disturbed’ by the approved legislation. “Seneca Falls Police Officers, along with the law enforcement community as a whole, are disgusted and disturbed by the recently approved legislation with regards to the Bail Reform Act,” he said. “The criminal justice system, as we know it is going to be changed entirely, but not for the safety of our community or the protection of victims. This law gives MORE freedom to criminals.”

Chief Peenstra acknowledged that some changes were needed from the current system. However, he doubled-down on his frustration with the changes – calling them ‘irresponsible’.

Sen. Helming concluded, noting that the entire legislation was rushed and poorly planned. “We all want and deserve safe communities. This is not a Democrat or Republican issue. It is a matter of public safety and our children’s future,” she added. “No one should have to worry that violent criminals, murderers and rapists are roaming the streets because of poorly planned, badly executed and shortsighted policies. Out here in the real world, we know that in order to keep our communities safe, our law enforcement and our courts must have the ability to make decisions based upon the circumstances and not some misguided legislation.”

Durso is a lifelong resident of the Finger Lakes. When not overseeing the newsroom he’s hosting Inside the FLX: A weekly program on FL1 Radio. Check out the podcast by clicking here, or by visiting Follow him on Twitter at @FLXJosh, or say hello by clicking here.

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