By STEVE BITTENBENDER
THE CENTER SQUARE CONTRIBUTOR
(The Center Square) – Calls are growing louder in New York for Gov. Kathy Hochul to take action against Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg after the newly elected prosecutor announced policies his office will seek prison time only “for matters involving significant harm.”
Mr. Bragg was elected in November and officially took office New Year’s Day. On Jan. 3, he issued a memo titled “Achieving Fairness and Safety,” which recounted his experiences growing up in Harlem.
Those experiences include having people – including police officers – draw a gun on him and having someone living with him adjust to life after incarceration. They led him to distribute the 10-page document to his staff outlining new “day one” policies related to charges, plea agreements and recommendations for bail and sentencing.
“Data, and my personal experiences, show that reserving incarceration for matters involving significant harm will make us safer,” Mr. Bragg wrote, italicizing the last four words for emphasis.
New policies include not charging individuals for such crimes as misdemeanor marijuana possession, fare jumping, trespassing or resisting arrest unless it’s part of a case with at least one felony count.
In addition, Mr. Bragg’s memo said a crime that could be charged as a first-degree robbery taking place in a business should only be charged as petit larceny “if the force or threat of force consists of displaying a dangerous instrument or similar behavior but does not create a genuine risk of physical harm.” That means what was once a class B felony would now be considered a class A misdemeanor.
Mr. Bragg clarified his robbery policy days later after New York City Police Commissioner Keechant Sewell raised concerns. He said anyone using a gun to rob a store would face felony charges.
That clarification did not stem the tide of criticism against Mr. Bragg.
On Monday, Samuel Collado, president of the National Supermarket Association, said his group was “deeply troubled” by the new policy on robberies and called on him to reconsider his guidelines.
“Anyone entering our stores armed with a weapon and the intent to use it is a recipe for disaster that puts our owners, employees, and customers at a grave risk,” Mr. Collado said in a statement. “We have seen countless examples of physical harm to employees as a result of armed robberies, but even the mere threat of a weapon can leave a victim with crippling and lifelong emotional distress.”
Republicans are taking aim at Mr. Bragg and want Gov. Hochul to use her constitutional powers to remove him from office.
Under Article XIII, Section 13 of the New York State Constitution, the governor can remove a district attorney who fails to “faithfully” prosecute someone charged in their jurisdiction. The provision calls on the governor to give notice to the district attorney. It also gives the DA a chance to defend themselves.
After the New York Post ran a story Tuesday about someone using a knife in an alleged armed robbery having his charge lowered to petit larceny, U.S. Rep. Lee Zeldin, R-Shirley, once again demanded Gov. Hochul use her powers.
“The DA is refusing to do his job so Kathy Hochul must do hers & REMOVE Alvin Bragg!” tweeted Rep. Zeldin on Wednesday.
Rep. Zeldin is considered the favorite to win the GOP’s gubernatorial nomination this year. Andrew Giuliani, one of his opponents in the Republican primary, also wants Gov. Hochul to oust Mr. Bragg.
Gov. Hochul, who is running on the Democratic side, is even getting some heat on the matter from a primary opponent. U.S. Rep. Tom Suozzi, D-Glen Cove, said Tuesday that Gov. Hochul needs to bring New York City’s five district attorneys together to discuss Mr. Bragg’s new policies.
During a press conference Tuesday, Gov. Hochul said she understood there’s an “unease” about public safety in New York and noted she included gun violence reduction measures in her State of the State speech last week.
She said she would work with new New York City Mayor Eric Adams when asked about Mr. Bragg but did not say if she would meet with Mr. Bragg.
“We are committed to ensuring that there’s public safety for individuals,” Gov. Hochul said, referring to Mayor Adams. “So they don’t have to have that sense of anxiety, and we’re going to get it done.”