Story by Sara Paul
New bail reforms laws, which went into place at the beginning of the year, eliminated cash bail and pretrial detention for a wide majority of low-level cases and nonviolent felonies. The law also allows courts to release a person under certain conditions, such as a travel or firearm restriction, according to the Associated Press.
The new laws have impacted the Warwick Police Department (WPD) in many negative ways, according to WPD Lt. Thomas Maslanka and Orange County District Attorney David Hoovler. Problems include a decrease in arrests, an increase in re-arrests, increased overtime, and added financial pressures.
“For us, here in Warwick, it’s created quite a shift,” reports Lt. Maslanka.
District Attorney Hoovler reports that crime is up across Orange County, overall, with cities like Middletown, Newburgh and Port Jervis seeing a 12% increase. The reason, he explains, is that only 3% of the population commits the majority of crimes, and if that 3% is not in jail or being held pre-trial, they are out and able to commit more crimes.
“Those of us in law enforcement expected to see that, and we have yet to see cost savings for these people not being in jail,” said Hoovler, adding that the number of people re-arrested in the County is up 76% so far in 2020.
Community Feels a Little Less Safe
Law enforcement agencies, as well as local residents, are concerned about the increase in crime. Long time Warwick resident Roni Mattiello is appalled by the new laws and is taking precautions such as not leaving her cell phone or pocketbook in her car, as well as looking over her shoulder in a quiet town where she never had these kinds of fears.
“As more things happen and bail reform is taking hold, I don’t trust that you can go anywhere and not have something happen. There are dangerous people who know they can do bad things and get away with it,” said Mattiello.
Lt. Maslanka comments, “I have a tremendous amount of confidence in the Warwick PD, but I understand how people would feel afraid. If we arrest someone for theft of a TV, for example, they will be back on the streets before you get a new TV.”
Hoovler confirms that there have been cases in which individuals are involved in domestic violence, disputes and other serious crimes, but are let out of jail because bail cannot be sought.
“We are doing our best to keep citizens safe despite the new laws,” Hoovler assures.
Lt. Maslanka also pointed out that a criminal, such as a burglar, has the right to return to a crime scene with their defense attorney and can also retrieve, through their attorney, contact information on reported witnesses. Victims of crimes can also be questioned multiple times regarding the same incident.
“This is victimizing a victim. Every time they tell their story, it’s victimizing them again,” said Maslanka.
Administrative & Financial Strains
Along with obvious safety concerns, there are many troublesome issues going on behind the scenes, causing detrimental changes in local Police Departments as well as increased costs for taxpayers.
Under the new laws, arresting officers have just 15 days to compile, certify as complete and submit all relevant documentation to the defense attorney.
According to Maslanka, the Warwick Police Dept. removed a patrol sergeant from his normal duties and made him an administrative sergeant to assist with the large increase in paperwork that has ensued due to the new laws.
“What works in larger cities with larger police forces doesn’t necessarily work in communities like ours. Just losing one guy is a huge impact,” Maslanka said.
The WPD currently has 30 full-time members, which includes four sergeants, a detective sergeant and two detectives, three undercover, plain-clothes officers, six school resource officers, and nine part time officers to keep more than 106 square miles safe.
The District Attorney added that arrests are down 44% in Orange County, largely because police officers have less time to patrol with all of the extended administrative responsibilities.
“It’s like the sheriff is dead, and the town is wide open,” Maslanka commented.
While in the past, officers had a larger window to do things like contact the District Attorney’s office after an arrest, under the new laws, officers must call the District Attorney’s office immediately – a scenario that is causing an increase in overtime hours for Warwick Police Officers. Maslanka reports that from Jan. 1 to mid-March, officers submitted 45 hours of overtime (OT) related to arrest reports.
“That may not sound like a lot, but this is up from zero hours of OT in dealing with the calls to the DA. With a Department our size, that’s really a lot of overtime,” Maslanka said.
Hoovler confirms that the changes are costing the Town of Warwick a huge amount due to unfunded mandates.
‘This is definitely costing the residents money,” he said.
Laws Passed Without Law Enforcement Consultation
Both Maslanka and Hoover solemnly attest that, from their perspective, there was no dialogue between lawmakers and law enforcement agencies regarding this major shift in bail reform.
“It’s been very disappointing to see that there couldn’t have been a lot of input from law enforcement… There are people being killed because of this bail reform, and the Governor is sitting on his hands. It seems very odd to me because this should have been addressed immediately,” said Maslanka.
Hoovler informs that, “The NYS Assembly and NYS Senate passed this without consulting District Attorneys, Police, and Sheriffs. It passed in the NYS budget with no debate because they didn’t want to have this conversation. It’s a hot ticket and fierce debate, and every Assemblyman and State Senator knew the hidden costs.”