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If the police commissioner of New York City has his way, the number of arrests made by his police officers should drop offer dramatically. As part of his proposal, the commissioner wants to give officers broader discretion in deciding whether to make an arrest.

Instead of making an arrest, police officers would have the authority to write a summons for a low-level criminal charge. In some cases, such as where the person suspected of committing a crime does not have a prior record, police would be allowed to let the person go with just a warning.

Critics of the proposed policy change claim that police lose the right to request identification from someone they encounter on the street unless they do so in connection with investigation of a crime such as a misdemeanor or felony. Decriminalization of petty offenses would prevent police from demanding identification in many cases.

The announcement by the police commissioner highlights the debate over a tactic police have used for years to gather information about people they encounter on a daily basis. Criminal defense attorneys know that a petty criminal charge might seem insignificant when compared to serious misdemeanor and felony assault charges, but petty offenses can lead to arrest warrants and other problems for the people involved.

Those who do not want to see changes in the current system cite the low rate of crime in New York City. Their argument is that the system of enforcing even low-level offenses by filing criminal charges is the reason the crime rate is so low.

A person facing a criminal charge should seek legal advice from a criminal defense attorney. The consequences and penalties associated with a criminal conviction should not be taken lightly regardless of the charges.

Source: New York Times, "Bratton Explores Giving Warnings in Lieu of Arrests for Minor Offenses," J. David Goodman, April 30, 2015

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