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William Bratton, NYPD commissioner, tips off plan for city gun courts

NYPD Commissioner William Bratton said in an interview

NYPD Commissioner William Bratton said in an interview Tuesday on WNYC that the city plans to open gun courts as part of an effort to dispose of possession cases and increase firearm sentences. Photo Credit: Yeong-Ung Yang

NYPD Commissioner William Bratton let the cat out of the bag — and annoyed some of his colleagues in law enforcement — when he announced on radio Tuesday the city’s plan to set up special gun courts.

During an interview with Brian Lehrer on WNYC, Bratton said next week City Hall will announce details for the gun courts as part of an effort to quickly dispose of possession cases and increase firearm sentences.

Bratton in the past claimed the judiciary was soft on sentencing gun offenders, although state court data indicates judges in the city are issuing prison terms close to what the law requires for a first-time offender.

“If you are going to walk up to another human being and shoot them in the face or randomly spray a crowd of people, that is someone I want off the streets,” Bratton said in the interview.

The gun court idea — tried under the Bloomberg Administration — is the result of weeks of meetings between Bratton, City Hall, the city’s five district attorneys and state court officials.

The city plan would ultimately open courts in four or five boroughs, according to law enforcement sources.

But when he talked about the proposal on radio Tuesday, Bratton miffed some of his colleagues, according to the sources.

“Everybody was caught off guard,” said an official in one prosecutor’s office who, like most interviewed for this story, didn’t want to be named.

Monica Klein, a spokeswoman for Mayor Bill de Blasio, said Bratton’s comments “were a teaser today for a larger policy package from the city in coordination with every part of the criminal justice system to ensure that reducing gun violence is taken seriously at every stage.”

Beginning in 2003 under Bloomberg, the city experimented with gun courts covering five police precincts in Brooklyn. A 2004 study by the Vera Institute of Criminal Justice said roughly 200 cases were handled by the courts in a seven-month period.

The proportion of defendants sentenced to jail without probation increased from 14 to 44 percent, according to the study, and probation-only sentences were eliminated.

However, during the Brooklyn experiment, state gun law cases proved to be so tough that defense attorneys refused to take guilty pleas, which undercut the idea that cases could be handled faster, said a judicial source who did not want to be named.

Former prosecutor and now defense attorney Elizabeth Crotty Tuesday questioned whether the volume of gun cases could justify keeping special courts in all boroughs.

“It is good in theory,” Crotty said, “but a real question is, is the volume there? Gun cases are already handled in a specific way with strict sentences, what would it accomplish?”

State Division of Criminal Justice services records show that in 2014, judges sentenced 134 defendants convicted of second-degree criminal possession of a weapon charges — the most severe — to a median sentence of four years, with some getting nearly six years. Through Dec. 22, 2015, state records show city courts disposed of 2,442 such gun cases although detailed information on sentences wasn’t available.

With Emily Ngo


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