New York’s Detainees


City Council bill would squeeze city to speed the time between arrest and arraignment

As far as thousands New Yorkers are concerned, the Republican Convention could happen every day—at least in the city’s jails. The arrest and unduly long detention of hundreds of anti-RNC protesters raised a stink last summer, but according to a report by the New York Civil Liberties Union, the stench lingered.

In October and November last year, some 16,000 people were held in New York City jails for longer than the mandated 24-hour limit before being formally charged with a crime. Some may have spent longer in jail awaiting their arraignment than they were likely to do for the crime with which they were eventually charged (if convicted): 9,300 of those arrests were for misdemeanors. And your chances of cooling your heels changed with the zip code: while only 22 percent of Queens arrestees waited more than a day, 62 percent of people busted in the Bronx twiddled their thumbs.

‘The reality is that this is an everyday occurrence,” said Manhattan City Councilman Bill Perkins. “It isn’t something that happens every four years when the Republicans are in town.”

Perkins has sponsored that seeks to use the threat of lawsuits to press the city into moving faster from arrest to arraignment. Called the “Charge or Release” bill, it would require the NYPD and Department of Correction to report quarterly to the council and the public advocate on how many cases took longer than a day and “any information that may explain why the arrestee was not arraigned within 24 hours of arrest.” Anyone held longer than the limit would be allowed to sue for damages.

“We need to strike the right balance,” said Fernando Ferrer, the lone mayoral candidate to show up for a City Hall press conference about the bill on Tuesday, between giving cops “the proper tools” to fight crime and “protecting the civil liberties of all New Yorkers.”

The 24-hour limit is not pulled out of thin air: A 1991 court ruling found that detaining anyone for longer than that without charge violated the law. Beyond that legalistic objection, the court ruled that lengthy pre-arraignment detentions could cause “serious and lasting personal and economic harm to detainees.”

Overall, the NYPD says, it’s average arrest-to-arraignment time is less than 24 hours—22.825 hours, to be exact. The only borough where the average time is more than a day is the Bronx. What’s more, the Mayor’s Management Report indicates that it takes on average only 9 hours citywide—and 11 hours in the Bronx—between an arrest and a complaint being sworn. The implication is that the rest of a detainees’ wait is a queue for time in crowded courtrooms.

But the bigger question might be: Why so many arrests in the first place? According to the Mayor’s Management Report, there were 350,000 arrests in fiscal year 2004. Major felonies (murder, rape, robbery, felonious assault, larceny, auto theft, burglary) comprised 41,000. Drug cases (felony and misdemeanor) made up 96,000. About 7,000 were drunk driving busts. But taken together, those arrests account for only 41 percent of the 350,000 total.

That leaves two hundred thousand arrests in other categories. Are you noticing a lot more people pissing in public?