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Gramaglia laments bail reforms following car chase, shootout

A tall man with brown hair wearing a suit and tie speaks to multiple reporters crowded around him. There is a police car in the background and the sun is setting.
Tom Dinki
Buffalo Police Commissioner Joseph Gramaglia speaks outside McKinley High School on Feb. 9, just after 5 p.m., regarding the shooting earlier in the day.

Following Tuesday night’s car chase, during which four people, including three police officers, were shot, Buffalo Police Commissioner Joseph Gramaglia rebuked bail reforms, saying it allows dangerous people out of jail and back out on the street.

“When gun defendants and sometimes [people] with multiple gun possession arrests walk out of custody because they either have too low bail and sometimes are released without bail, that's a problem,” Gramaglia said. “That's a real problem. We are here to make our community safe and we need the trigger pullers. We need those possessing guns behind bars.”

But do the numbers bear out Gramaglia’s accusation?

Partnership for the Public Good Executive Director Andrea O' Suilleabhain
Thomas O'Neil-White
Partnership for the Public Good Executive Director Andrea O' Suilleabhain

Buffalo City Court data shows that only 1.4% of people released on their own recognizance ended up getting re-arrested during the first 18 months with the new bail reforms in place.

With the state budget deadline quickly approaching, lawmakers and law enforcement officials are sounding the alarm about rising crime in the state during the pandemic and calling on Gov. Kathy Hochul to roll back on the reforms.

But looking at crime numbers in the City of Buffalo, from the year before the reforms were put in place compared to the year after, makes it clear the current reforms are working, said Partnership for the Public Good Executive Director Andrea O’Suilleabhain.

“Almost across the board, all of the meaningful changes have been decreases, [from] 2019 to 2020,” she said. “Right off the top, assault second degree is down 109 arrests, burglary down 45 arrests in the second degree. Combined robbery charges down 131 arrests.”

O’Suilleabhain said the state has yet to respond to requests for 2021 arrest data.

Legal Aide Bureau of Buffalo Attorney Michael Deal said now is time for state legislators to hold the line on the reforms and not give in to any fear mongering.

Thomas O'Neil-White
Legal Aide Bureau Attorney Michael Deal

“Politicians react to the loudest voices,” he said. “And right now, the loudest voices in this regard has been the voices of those in law enforcement. We must point out that there is no direct correlation between any of the statistics that we can compile and an increase in crime due to release on bail or lack of bail being said.”

Instead of rolling back reforms and reinstituting tougher bail laws and giving judges wider discretion in determining the public threat posed by a defendant, criminal justice reform groups from across the state are asking the governor to allocate $1 billion in the budget towards community-based anti-gun violence and survivor programs.

Born in Louisville, Kentucky, Thomas moved to Western New York at the age of 14. A graduate of Buffalo State College, he majored in Communications Studies and was part of the sports staff for WBNY. When not following his beloved University of Kentucky Wildcats and Boston Red Sox, Thomas enjoys coaching youth basketball, reading Tolkien novels and seeing live music.
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