New York Is Having a Violent Summer, But It's Not Because of Bail Reform

The NYPD is still blaming jail releases, but the data simply doesn’t back that claim up.


New York City is seeing a spike in shootings and homicides, and New York City Police Commissioner Dermot Shea blames bail reforms and COVID-19-related releases of inmates for the increase. But the New York Post looked over the New York Police Department's own data and found there's no relationship between this new wave of violence and the release of people from New York's jails.

When New York reformed its bail laws to make it easier for people charged with low-level crimes to get out of jail without having to put up money first, law enforcement representatives insisted it would lead to more crime.

Similar reforms in adjacent New Jersey had shown no such problems, but once New York state implemented reforms at the start of 2020, police trumpeted the case of any person who was released without having to pay bail and subsequently broke the law and as proof that bail reform puts people in danger.

To an extent, this strategy worked. New York scaled back its bail reforms in April, giving judges greater authority to demand cash bail, especially if somebody was arrested again after being released from pretrial detention.

This apparently still isn't enough for the NYPD, and Shea is attempting to argue that bail reforms have led to gun violence. But the data shows that's just not true.

The New York Post looked over the city's data of 528 shooting incidents from the start of the year through the end of June. Only one person who had been released on bail under these bail reforms has been charged with a shooting, according to the NYPD's own data. Less than 1 percent of the 11,000 people who have been released from Rikers Island this year have a connection to a shooting in the city, and more than half of those people are connected as a witness or a victim, not as a suspect.

Among the 275 people released from Rikers to attempt to reduce the spread of COVID-19, only nine were subsequently linked to shootings, and of those, three were witnesses and three were victims.

Everybody has their own theories about why gun violence is increasing, not just in New York City, but in other major urban centers like Chicago and Minneapolis. Shootings often go up in the summer, and homicides do tend to increase during periods of political and social unrest. The summer of 2020 hits all three marks.

It's also worth noting that New York City is not seeing a massive increase in all major crimes. Homicides, burglaries, and auto thefts are seeing big spikes—burglary reports have doubled over last year—but other major crimes are on the decline. Overall, New York City actually saw a 5.5 percent decline in major crimes when compared to the first six months of 2019.

That, of course, doesn't mean that residents of the Big Apple should shrug off a major spike in gun violence and homicide. But the data simply doesn't support the NYPD's claim that bail reforms and COVID-19 releases are to blame.

Kudos to the New York Post for holding the police accountable, particularly since the Post has historically been the media outlet most likely to uncritically advance the tough-on-crime argument that criminal justice reforms lead to more crime.