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Law enforcement comes out in force against state bail reform

Mike Desmond

The law enforcement establishment of Western New York says a series of new state criminal laws that took effect the first of the year are a mistake and should be repealed or replaced. Thursday's hearing at the Mahoney State Office Building was called by the Senate Republican Bail Reform Task Force, with Sunset Bay Republican George Borrello as chair. The senator has been opposed to many of the changes since he had to find how to pay for them, when he was Chautauqua County executive.

The legal changes weren't directly passed by legislators, but were passed as part of the state budget, changes from essentially doing away with bail to requiring all evidence behind a criminal charge must be turned over to the defense within 15 days. Erie County Sheriff Tim Howard says the new laws are putting a lot of people on the street instead of behind bars.

"A year ago, in January of 2019, our average population in the jail was 830 inmates per day," Howard said. "For January of 2020, it's down to about 660, about 170 inmates less just here within Erie County."

District attorneys, sheriffs and police chiefs say the new laws are putting excessive stress and extra costs on their departments while Albany again refuses to pay the costs of the imposed legal changes. Most of those testifying were prosecutors and cops.

Defense lawyer Kevin Stadelmaier said it is posturing and inaccurate.

"Any offender who could pay the bail was allowed the release. If they could pay the bail set, they could get out, regardless of the offense," he said. "Weapons offenders, sex offenders, robbers, burglars, DWI, manslaughter offenders, all of them. If they could pay the bond, they could be released. So we see this is far less about dangerousness as it is about criminalizing impoverished and minority populations and the new law restricting the criminal justice system's ability to do that."

Stadelmaier is chief attorney for criminal justice for the Legal Aid Bureau of Bufalo. He attacked Republicans directly for politics in comments on the new laws.

Orleans County DA Joe Cardone said he can't hold alleged domestic violence perpetrators, although the victim can seek an order of protection.

"A judge will issue an order of protection, but as you know, an order of protection is a piece of paper that mandates somebody to do something, just as the laws are that we put into our statute books," Cardone said. "Whether somebody wants to pay attention to that is their call and, frankly, we've had situations time and time again where people violate orders of protection."

There are a lot of domestic violence arrests. In Chautauqua County, domestic violence is a quarter of DA Patrick Swanson's caseload.

Mike Desmond is one of Western New York’s most experienced reporters, having spent nearly a half-century covering the region for newspapers, television stations and public radio. He has been with WBFO and its predecessor, WNED-AM, since 1988. As a reporter for WBFO, he has covered literally thousands of stories involving education, science, business, the environment and many other issues. Mike has been a long-time theater reviewer for a variety of publications and was formerly a part-time reporter for The New York Times.
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