How to Clear NYC's 1.2M Warrant Backlog: Amnesty
NYPD commish floats idea to resolve wave of old, minor infractions
By Newser Editors and Wire Services
Posted May 18, 2015 12:34 PM CDT
In this May 14, 2015, photo, Sheila Beasley, a 50-year-old Bronx woman with no criminal history, discusses her case against the NYPD for arresting her on a three-year-old summons for an unleashed dog.   (Kathy Willens)
camera-icon View 2 more images

(Newser) – New York City has 1.2 million open warrants like Sheila Beasley's—she was issued a summons in 2008 over an unleashed dog, then arrested three years later, for which she's now suing—affecting people who risk arrest for sometimes decades-old low-level infractions such as drinking in public or disorderly conduct. Police Commissioner William Bratton has floated one approach that's already getting some support: amnesty. "Warrants never go away. There's no expiration date," says Bratton, who envisions a program in which people with outstanding warrants would be notified that their risk of arrest could disappear if they come forward. "It would be great to get rid of that backlog. It's not to our benefit from a policing standpoint to have all those warrants floating around out there."

Mayor Bill de Blasio's criminal justice coordinator says officials are investigating "how to safely reduce the number of already outstanding warrants." Officials are redesigning the summons form itself, texting reminders to people ahead of their court dates, as well as cutting down court processing times to shrink the number of people who end up in jail for low-level offenses. They'll post summons data broken down by race for analysis, a concession to advocates who claim tickets disproportionately target minorities. One expert says many of the nearly 40% who failed to show for court last year are people who are homeless or mentally ill and don't have money to pay fines. "We want people to be held accountable to the court system, but sometimes to make things work better we have to find reasonable fixes," she says.