By Mike Lee
President President-Patrol Division Niagara Falls Police Club
On March 20, 2017 the Niagara Falls City Council voted to adopt New York State resolution# 17 as it relates to Subpart J of Governor Andrew Cuomo’s budget bill. The city council voted 4-0 in favor of supporting the change for raising the age of criminal responsibility among youthful offenders.
Councilman Kenny Tompkins abstained requesting more information prior to casting his vote.
The Police Conference of NY, which represents the union of Police Officers throughout New York State, has raised several issues as it relates to this proposed bill. Issues that some members of our city council failed to explore prior to voting in favor of this resolution.
First off the bill as written is flawed in its entirety as is the reason it is being pushed for change. This state has already developed an elaborate system of juvenile and criminal justice that appears to be working as it is. The undertaking of this new initiative is expected to cost a significant amount of money. Any legislation such as this will add layers of new programming, new training requirements and create new parts to the existing court system. It will undoubtedly establish the need for new youth correctional facilities, create additional family support centers and provide for and fund additional juvenile risk intervention services. The bill appears to provide that the state and counties would be responsible for most of these costs. Directly or indirectly it will have an adverse fiscal impact on every municipality in the state. This includes Niagara Falls.
The current age of criminal responsibility should not be increased. It is known that sixteen-year-old violators of the law vary tremendously in maturity, both physically and mentally. Some are relatively harmless, misguided or confused while others are hardened criminals capable of committing heinous acts and inflicting a great deal of damage to others without remorse. Currently the law grants juvenile status to offenders under 16 and permits treating those offenders between the ages of 16 and 19 who have not committed serious or violent crimes to be treated as youthful offenders if they warrant it.
Those who are 16 to 19-years-old whose conduct and criminal history do not warrant youthful offender treatment are treated as adults. This bill, once all provisions have taken effect, will mandate that ALL but the most serious 16 to 19-year- old offenders be treated as juveniles. This one-size-fits-all solution to the problem is more complex than it might appear to those who have not reviewed the issue. The current system where the entitlement to juvenile treatment for 16 to 19 years old is determined by conduct and history is far more appropriate. It is common knowledge in the police community that when gang violence is involved it turns out that the youngest members present are those found to be carrying weapons when police arrive. Gangs fully realize that juveniles are treated leniently in the criminal justice system and they use this to their advantage. Raising the age only exacerbates this as well many other issues.
A provision in this bill allows for the sealing of a certain number of criminal convictions. These are not limited to youthful offender adjudications. Criminal convictions simply should not be sealed. This is information that the public should know. Employers, including schools, hospitals and banks to name a few depend on criminal records in their hiring processes. Conversely this arises from the same legislative session that is making great efforts to remove the confidentiality that currently exists for police officers’ personnel records as per SOA of the Civil service law. Legislation should not be expanding the statutory confidentiality available to criminals while taking these same rights away from police officers.
As President of the Niagara Falls Police Club, I had the opportunity to personally speak with Assemblyman Angelo Marinello on these issues. He has confirmed to me that changes to this bill are still being negotiated and a final draft has not been settled on. I would then ask why the council would vote on such a measure of endorsement when in fact they do not know what exactly this proposed budget bill will hold?
Perhaps instead of sending out this endorsement to the Assemblyman, Governor Cuomo and Senator Rob Ortt they might have considered performing their due diligence in this matter before voting in favor of “changing the game.” They could have reached out and educated themselves on both sides of the issue before voting for the citizens of Niagara Falls. The same voting entity whom have been the target of burglaries, robberies and car break-ins from these very same youthful offenders.