Since 2013 New York City has had a backlog of at least 1 million open warrants and has failed to put a dent in that over the years.
Most recently, there were more than 1.6 million outstanding warrants in New York City, according to City of New York criminal justice data. Of the outstanding warrants, 1.3 million were for criminal summonses, which included offenses such as drinking alcohol in public and littering. Approximately 810,000 of the outstanding warrants in NYC were for summonses that were more than 10 years old.
Warrants are typically issued when someone fails to show up to court. An open warrant can lead to an arrest in cases where a police officer might otherwise issue a ticket.
Many people forget about minor, years-old warrants, and when they get arrested for another minor offense such as jaywalking, the old warrant pops up, leading to much harsher penalties.
Open warrants, in fact, are increasing nationwide.
According to warrant data supplied by 27 states in 2019, the Columbus Dispatch newspaper identified more than 1.2 million open arrest warrants for minor offenses.
The population segment most affected by outstanding warrants is Black men, especially in New York City.
“It’s a very serious problem, and it’s happening more or less in every state in the country, every county, and every city,” said Matt Menendez, an attorney at the Brennan Center for Justice, in the Milford Daily News. “If this were impacting white, middle-class suburbs, you would see quicker results and reforms. The way warrants are issued in these cases has little or nothing to do with the risks they may pose.”
While Black people make up 24 percent of NYC’s population, they account for nearly half of all NYC arrests, according to records from the New York Police Department, the largest municipal police force in the U.S.
Between Jan. 1, 2014, and Dec. 31, 2019, Black people comprised 48 percent of the nearly 1.8 million arrests made by the NYPD, while whites accounted for just 12 percent, according to the data.
Most arrests — 281,258 — were made for dangerous drugs, while 208,849 arrests were for misdemeanor assault and another 90,097 were for felony assault, ABC News reported.
Nationwide, Black males are arrested at a higher rate than whites. Black men comprise about 13 percent of the male population in the U.S., but about 35 percent of those incarcerated, according to the 2018 research brief, “An Unjust Burden: The Disparate Treatment of Black Americans in the Criminal Justice System.” The brief was written by Elizabeth Hinton, assistant professor at Harvard University’s Department of History and African and African American Studies; LeShae Henderson, special research assistant at the Vera Institute of Justice; and Cindy Reed, senior editor at the Vera Institute.
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One in three Black men born today can expect to be incarcerated in his lifetime based on current rates, compared to one in 17 white men, the brief stated.
“There are other just as nefarious, just as racially-biased practices that have filled the void. Unless you’re really going to start at the roots of the problem, you’re going to end up in the same place,” said Ann Mathews, managing director of The Bronx Defenders, a public defender nonprofit that defends 27,000 low-income Bronx residents a year. “We may be seeing lower arrest numbers, but the way those arrests are happening, who’s being arrested, how they are being arrested, how the police are targeting for arrests, that’s really unchanged. There has not been a sea change in the way the NYPD approaches policing.”
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