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Facing political pressure, Hochul defends her stance on bail reform

 Governor Kathy Hochul surveys a cache of illegal weapons seized by state police on August 4, 2022
Karen DeWitt, New York State Public Radio
Governor Kathy Hochul surveys a cache of illegal weapons seized by state police on August 4, 2022

Gov. Kathy Hochul, facing political pressure to hold a special session, on Thursday defended her opposition to make more changes to the state’s bail reform laws.

Hochul said revisions to the laws that took effect in early May need to have a chance to work first.

She spoke at the State Police forensic center in Albany about progress in what she said is another tool to fight crime. She stood amid a display of 30 guns uncovered in an investigation into an illegal weapons trafficking ring across upstate New York. The weapons included six assault rifles, seven high-capacity magazines, 12 ghost gun pistols and assorted ghost guns parts. State Police said multiple people were arrested, but aren’t releasing any more details right now.

The Gun Trafficking Interdiction Unit -- implemented by Hochul nearly a year ago and funded by $2.5 million in the state budget -- spent months on the case. The governor said since the unit started operating, nearly 800 illegal guns have been confiscated, and countless lives have been saved.

“We’ve seen a 104% increase in seizures by State Police just since last year,” Hochul said.

As the governor faces an election to hold a full term in office, crime has become a major campaign issue.

Her opponent, Republican Long Island Rep. Lee Zeldin, has called for a full repeal of the state’s 2019 bail reform laws, which ended most forms of cash bail.

And New York City Mayor Eric Adams, a Democrat, has called for a special session of the Legislature to pass a law that would allow judges to consider the potential “dangerousness” of a defendant when deciding whether to hold them before trial.

“Under the current law, judges are not allowed to consider whether someone is a threat to public safety when deciding whether or not to hold them in custody,” Adams said. “This is a big mistake.”

Zeldin said he agrees with Adams.

“I strongly support the mayor’s call for a special session," Zeldin said. “Common ground should be found. Republicans and Democrats working together to make the streets of New York safe again.”

Hochul said the bail reform laws were revised in the spring, and they need to be given a chance to work before more changes are made.

In April, Hochul and the Legislature widened the criteria that judges could use to decide whether to set bail, including the severity of the offense and whether the accused had been convicted of a similar crime in the past. The law also reauthorized bail for hate crimes, gun-related crimes and domestic violence offenses.

The governor, for the second day in a row, criticized the state’s judges, saying they are not following the new laws, and suggesting that they need remedial courses in how to use the new criteria to decide whether to set bail in a case. Hochul said she’s already talking to the state Office of Court Administration to set up a seminar.

“If judges aren’t using the broad discretion that they have because they believe that their hands are tied, I want to help assure them and educate them that changes were made,” the governor said. “It literally went into effect May 9.”

New York Police Department officials, at a news conference with Adams, highlighted several repeat offenders who were released without bail and then committed new crimes. Hochul said in each of those cases, a judge could have set bail but didn’t choose to.

The governor said she is “in sync” with the mayor, who has endorsed her election bid, and that they both want the same goal of safer streets. Adams agrees, and said he and Hochul are “aligned.”

But Hochul said blaming the crime wave on bail reform is too simplistic.

“That is a political slogan, that’s all it is. It’s ignoring the complexity of what we are dealing with,” said Hochul, who added there’s been a nationwide crime surge, including in states that did not reform their bail laws.

Hochul said the pandemic changed something in the human condition and people “went to a dark place” that, among other things, led to an increase in crime. But she said she believes that steps like breaking up illegal gun trafficking rings can help to change that.

Copyright 2022 WXXI News. To see more, visit WXXI News.

Karen DeWitt is Capitol Bureau Chief for New York State Public Radio, a network of 10 public radio stations in New York State. She has covered state government and politics for the network since 1990.