NY Attorney General Letitia James had decided to make an example of the police-shooting death of Allan Feliz in 2019 and use that as an excuse to push for a rather radical change in NYPD policy. Feliz was pulled over by an NYPD sergeant named Jonathan Rivera last October and provided someone else’s ID (his brother’s) when asked for his driver’s license. The brother had some outstanding warrants for minor infractions. An altercation ensued, leading to Feliz being shot and killed by the officer.
Using that incident as an example, the AG is now recommending that officers no longer conduct arrests of individuals during traffic stops if they have outstanding warrants for a variety of classes of minor offenses. These would include bench warrants for failing to appear in court or more minor, public nuisance offenses. (NY Post)
The AG found no reason to charge Rivera but did say car stops such as the one with Feliz shouldn’t be performed by officers because “the vast majority of traffic stops — including this one — do not involve criminal conduct, yet the involvement of police in such situations can result in violent interactions.”
“The report also highlighted studies demonstrating disparities in the use of force during traffic stops against Black and Latino men. The untimely death of Mr. Feliz further underscores the need for this change,” the report continues.
If the NYPD does decide to continue conducting traffic enforcement stops, the AG said officers should not arrest motorists who have low-level warrants, such as a failure to appear on a summons or bench warrants for violations like littering.
This unwise policy change is not only questionable in terms of public safety, but the AG has picked a less-than-ideal poster boy to make her case. The death of Allan Feliz wasn’t some case of white, racist cops assassinating Black and Latino suspects. First of all Seargent Rivera is Hispanic himself. And Feliz wasn’t some innocent victim of circumstances. The reason he gave over his brother’s ID instead of his own was that he was on parole from convictions on a variety of federal offenses at the time. He also had quantities of both cocaine and methamphetamines in the vehicle, the discovery of which would surely have sent him back to prison.
Feliz also didn’t comply with the officer’s instructions. Instead, he continually attempted to drive the vehicle away. He was only shot after nearly running over Rivera’s partner. It was a preventable death, to be sure, but Feliz was the one who could have easily prevented it.
Still, as a result of this, the Attorney General wants the police to stop making arrests of people with outstanding warrants during traffic stops if the offenses aren’t serious crimes. But if that’s going to become NYPD policy, then what is the point of issuing such warrants to begin with? In most cases of these lower-level crimes, a traffic stop is probably the only time the cops are going to be able to make an arrest. They have far too many shootings, murders and riot offenses to chase down these days to be hunting down scofflaws on warrants involving public nuisance offenses.
That brings us back to our longstanding discussion about the abandonment of New York City’s broken windows policies and the subsequent rise in crime. When criminals realize that their offenses won’t be taken seriously and there will be few or no consequences for their actions, such crimes become all the more common. And when you stop prosecuting the “smaller” crimes, the ripple effect leads to more people engaging in more serious crimes.
We learned all of this during the great crime crackdown of the nineties when crime rates were slashed dramatically. And we’ve seen the backlash since liberal municipal leaders have backed off on those policies in favor of more lenient treatment. Letitia James is simply looking to push the state further down this same road. And the eventual destination is already in sight and it’s not pretty.