ALBANY — The debate over the best solutions to deal with crime and punishment shifted into high gear Tuesday with Republicans and Democrats offering starkly different measures for protecting the public.
But on this all sides agree: Violent crime is on the rise across New York.
Republicans want to require a unanimous vote of the parole board for prison inmates to win early release from their sentences and restore the ability of judges to set bail at arraignments rather than routinely release defendants to their communities.
Meanwhile, 11 Democratic mayors signaled their support for legislation advanced by Assemblywoman Patricia Fahy, D-Albany, that would allow civil liability suits to be brought against gun manufacturers by shooting victims.
“Local governments, law enforcement agencies, and families of victims affected by gun violence need another tool in their arsenal in the fight to stop the flow of illegal guns into New York," Fahy said in a statement,
Republicans, who are greatly outnumbered in both the state Assembly and Senate, registered strong disapproval for Democratic measures that would allow inmates who have served at least 15 years and have turned 55 years old to be considered for parole release, regardless of their past crimes.
Senate GOP Leader Rob Ortt, R-Niagara County, said the Democratic agenda amounts to "overturning" New York's criminal justice system in order to placate progressive activists.
"We know crime is a problem yet the Democrats who run state government can't do what they need to do because they are terrified by those on the far left," Ortt told reporters.
Assemblyman Joe Angelino, R-Chenango County, said New York is on a "disastrous path" as a result of more lenient criminal justice initiatives that have resulted in county jail populations falling sharply.
Police officers are now reluctant to do any more than what they have to do and have been putting in their retirement papers at "an enormous rate," said Angelino, a former Norwich police chief.
"They know they don't have the support and the backup from above," he said.
Murders involving gunfire went from 248 in 2019 to 375 last year, according to data reported to the state from 17 counties outside of New York City.
The crime spike continues this year, said Assembly GOP Leader Will Barclay, R-Pulaski. “It seems like every morning we wake up to see another story about violence in our streets or a shooting where innocent victims are either killed or injured,” Barclay said.
Citing a 2016 report from the state attorney general's office, Fahy noted 74% of the guns involved in New York crimes were acquired out of state.
She said firearms manufacturers have sold their weapons to "corrupt dealers" while getting civil liability protections no other industry enjoys.
"Illegal firearm violence has disproportionately affected underserved Black and Brown neighborhoods in our cities and throughout the state despite stringent state and local laws against the illegal possession of firearms," Fahy's bill states.
Republicans are pushing for a measure that would require the parole board to review all submitted impact statements from crime victims.
Sens. Pete Oberacker, R-Otsego County, and Dan Stec, R-Queensbury, both came out in favor of a measure that would require a unanimous decision from the parole board in order for an inmate to get parole. They also advocated for extending to five years from two years the period of time the parole board has to reconsider parole denials for those incarcerated for violent crimes.
Having to again deal with a parole hearing for a convicted killer just two years after going through the procedures forces the loved ones of murder victims "to relive horrific events over and over again," said Oberacker.
He cited the case of convicted murderer David Dart, a former Otsego County man who will again be eligible for a parole hearing next year while serving a life sentence for the 1989 knifing death of Gillian Gibbons.
The victim's sister, Jennifer Kirkpatrick of Oneonta, has backed the proposal to stretch the waiting period between parole hearings for violent offenders to five years.
Joe Mahoney covers the New York Statehouse for CNHI’s newspapers and websites. Reach him at email@example.com