In March, the Manhattan District Attorney's office and the New York City mayor's office announced that the borough's police officers will no longer issue criminal summons for, and the city will no longer prosecute, low-level offenses such as public urination, littering, public consumption of alcohol, and "manspreading"— that is, taking up two seats on the subway. Civil summons will be issued instead.
According to the D.A.'s office press release, police and prosecutors may still arrest and criminally charge someone for committing one of these offenses "if there is a demonstrated public safety reason to do so."
Such offenses were criminalized as part of the city's "broken windows policing" effort over the past few decades. The theory was that if you arrest someone for low-level "quality of life" offenses, that person will be less likely to go on to commit other more serious crimes. But critics say the policy has been disproportionately used to harass poor and minority citizens, and that many people have consequently been caught up in the criminal justice system unnecessarily.
The D.A.'s office and the mayor's office hope these changes will reduce Manhattan's overburdened criminal court docket. Over 1.1 million New Yorkers currently have open arrest warrants for failing to appear at their court dates for low-level offenses.
The New York City Council has also been considering legislation that would create a civil process for quality-of-life violations in all five boroughs, not just Manhattan.
This article originally appeared in print under the headline "NYPD Backs Off".