amNewYork Metro has spent the beginning of 2023 speaking to notable figures as they look back over the previous year and forward to this one. For our final retrospective, we spoke to Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg regarding his past, proudest moments from 2020, bail reform, his relationship with the NYPD, and plans for the future.
Somewhat of a controversial figure, Bragg — the first African-American and first person of color ever elected to the office — is often heralded as a bastion of justice to some and a harbinger of injustice to others. No matter personal viewpoints, there is no denying that the current Manhattan DA has a strong pedigree in law through which he says he’s faced off against unjust members of law enforcement.
This history served him well in the wake of the George Floyd murder as communities hungry for change lifted him up as a symbol of that movement. Bragg attended rally after rally while on the campaign trail, promising to live up to that outlook, something he recalled during an interview with amNewYork Metro.
“Throughout my career, I’ve sort of worked at the intersection of traditional law enforcement, you know, armed robbery, narcotics trafficking, witness intimidation, and civil rights, particularly police accountability, injustice issues, and so I certainly talked about that marriage on the campaign trail,” Bragg remembered. “I talked about how that, in many ways, reflects my personal life.”
With such a storied past involving police and accountability, amNewYork Metro asked Bragg how that impacts his relationship with the NYPD and how the two currently coexist despite sharing some key differences. Bragg ensured that he has Manhattanites’ best interests in mind and works well with top police brass.
“[We have a] very good, productive working relationship. I’ve done this for a while, right. I’m a bit of a prosecutor and a civil rights lawyer in one person for some time now. I was a federal prosecutor; I was working side by side with the FBI at the same time I was prosecuting an FBI agent. So, I think folks can compartmentalize,” Bragg said. “I also think that we’ve got the same objectives — public safety and things like also holding ourselves accountable. Looking back at our own cases, and also others in law enforcement, it is fully consistent with public safety and the folks that I’m interacting with in the senior levels of NYPD who understand that.”
Over the course of 2022, NYPD officials such as top cop Keechant Sewell and fellow senior officials pointed the long arm of the law at recidivism time and time again for being the leading cause of crime, including admonishing aspects of bail reform for creating a revolving door of criminals. amNewYork metro pressed Bragg on this.
“We’re in touch with the NYPD on cases and talk about these issues. Last year, the bail law was changed to allow for pretrial detention when someone commits a crime that harms someone and then while they’re out on bail commits another crime that harms someone, and that includes something like shoplifting from a store and that type of non-physical harm. So, we’ve been using that in appropriate cases. And certainly, in cases involving violence, what we’ve been asking for in appropriate cases is pretrial detention, and getting it from the courts,” Bragg explained. “The data shows that the return to court rate is actually up since the bail statute and the percentage of violent felony reoffence. While all of it is concerning it’s relatively stable. So, we’ll continue to look at that point.”
Bragg says he has worked closely with law enforcement to tackle gun violence, an aspect of the last year he is extremely proud of.
According to the district attorney, gun prosecutions went up 20% in 2022 while homicides and shootings fell sharply in the borough. He also affirmed that hate crime prosecutions rose by 20%. Bragg also had a major win in January when he prosecuted two dozen individuals and 26 companies in a multimillion-dollar construction industry kickback scheme, something Local 79 Construction and General Building Laborers lauded him for.
Bragg says he will look to pursue more cases like this in 2023.
“You work an honest day, you deserve an honest wage and you deserve the benefits to which you’re entitled to under our law. So, we’re looking to expand that kind of worker protection,” Bragg said.
In addition to protecting workers, the DA also said that he will look to charge forward with renter protections, something he said is deeply important during an affordable housing crisis.
“We announced that we brought a case against six developers for cheating the 421A tax program, they were supposed to provide affordable housing, we allege not doing so. So, that’s very important,” Bragg said.
Bragg also told amNewYork Metro of several other policies he is looking forward to fleshing out in the coming months, one being the multi-million-dollar mental health initiative that will see navigators provide support and services to those living on the street. The policy will be taking place in the court system itself at arraignments in an effort to keep them out of trouble. Bragg emphasized his pride for his anti-hate crime unit that he has invested over one million dollars in order to prevent the spread of xenophobia that rose over the course of COVID-19.
In 2023 Bragg said he will look to take on both violent crime and white-collar crime.
“We’re going to continue our gun interdiction; we’re going to do crime work. We’re going to expand our worker protection work and we’re going to be using white collar tools to support addressing violent crime,” Bragg said. “We’re looking at people who have not just done violent crime, but more provable kind of white-collar offenses like money laundering that’s enabling significant drug trafficking or gun trafficking.”