In the face of a federal civil rights lawsuit, the NYPD has cut back on its stop-and-frisk practices and "broken windows" policing overall. Since the 1990s, the department had been aggressively enforcing minor offenses such as public drinking or riding a bike on the sidewalk. The idea was that cracking down on minor offenses in high-crime neighborhoods would set a tone that would reduce crime overall. Unfortunately, the policing practices often translated directly into racial profiling.
Last week, the district attorneys of Brooklyn, Queens, the Bronx and Manhattan asked judges to dismiss a total of 644,494 warrants in their boroughs. The DA for Staten Island did not participate. Previously, the five DAs had been holding warrant amnesty events in which people could have old warrants cleared up, but this is different.
In this mass amnesty, which had been in the works since 2015, the four participating DAs acted on behalf of thousands of people with old nuisance warrants. The cases of people with outstanding summonses from the past decade were dismissed.
This amnesty does not apply to people who've had a separate brush with the law, such as a felony warrant or an investigation for another crime. That excluded some 60,000 warrants from the program in Manhattan alone.
The amnesty required extensive negotiation between the police department and the mayor's office. Its purpose was largely to reduce the strain on our court system from people whose offenses weren't considered serious enough to require immediate arrest. And, in light of the civil rights lawsuit, the amnesty is meant to lift the burden from minorities who were unlawfully targeted.
Moreover, the dismissal of the warrants was intended to reduce injustice.
"New Yorkers with 10-year-old summons warrants face unnecessary unemployment risk, housing and immigration consequences," said Manhattan's DA in the court hearing. "And because they fear they will be arrested for the old infraction, they often don't collaborate with law enforcement."
The immigration consequences alone are considered quite significant. Civil rights and immigration advocates say that people are being put at serious risk of deportation due to these old, minor warrants. Under past administrations, deportation was generally targeted at people who had committed serious offenses, but the Trump administration seems to be deporting anyone with a blemish on their criminal records.
If you are subject to a warrant for a minor offense, you will not be notified if it has been dismissed, unfortunately. There is no process in place for the courts to notify people directly, according to the New York Times. However, these warrants have not themselves been a high priority for the NYPD. They have mostly been enforced when the subject was arrested for another offense.