Why is the Gates chief uneasy about bail reform? How about the 800 active bench warrants

March 22, 2019 06:52 PM

GATES, N.Y.(WHEC) -- When Gates Police arrested a man for drunk driving seven years ago, the driver was set free without bail. The chief says after the driver was charged, he disappeared. 

Now the driver's name is on one of 800 active bench warrants in the town.


That's one example why the chief of police told News10NBC that law enforcement is uneasy about reforming bail in New York.

Gov. Cuomo is pushing bail reform.

He thinks the system is unfair and News10NBC exposed some of the problems of the system to you in multiple reports Thursday. 

But when you talk to police, they think releasing more people after arrest is going to hurt the system that protects people who don't get in trouble. 

"Because if people don't come back to court then the prosecution of that case comes to a complete standstill," Gates Police Chief Jim Vanbrederode said. 

Chief VanBrederode showed News10NBC the 2012 case of the man his officers arrested for drunk driving. 

"So this guy was really drunk. [A blood alcohol content of] .20 okay?" the chief said reading through the police report. The chief says the driver was let go after he was charged and fled the state. 

"We've never seen the person since. We believe they're now down in Ohio," VanBrederode said. "And again, this case now is in limbo. It can't proceed forward."

When someone skips out on a court date, the judge will issue a bench warrant. Chief VanBrederode says there are 800 active bench warrants in Gates. 

On Friday, News10NBC went town to town calling police departments and courts tracking down other numbers. 

Brighton Police says it has 72 active bench warrants. Henrietta Court says it has 250. The Monroe County Sheriff's Office says it has 625 active bench warrants, both misdemeanors and felonies.

In Irondequoit, the court says it has "hundreds, perhaps thousands" of active bench warrants. 

Here's the other side. 

The governor and groups like the Judicial Process Commission in Rochester are campaigning for bail reform. They want it passed in the state budget. 

Susan Porter, executive director of the commission, looked at the Monroe County Jail census in February and found 11 men and women locked up even though their bail was basically $500. 

News10NBC Chief Investigative Reporter Berkeley Brean: "In your experience, why can't they post bail?"

Susan Porter, Judicial Process Commission: "Because most of the people in the criminal justice system are poor."

Under the governor's plan, bail would be eliminated for misdemeanors and non-violent felonies and release for some violent felonies would be up to a judge's discretion. 

Brean: "How is that going to improve our community?"

Porter: "Well because the community is going to be a more just place to live."

Chief VanBrederode showed News10NBC the most recent stack of bench warrants in Gates. It was a pile of folders an inch thick.

Brean: "So this would just be one night at court, and these are all the people that didn't show up?"

VanBrederode: "Yeah."

And the chief thinks back to the scofflaw arrested for drunk driving seven years ago. How could the situation be different if the driver was out on bail?

Vanbrederode: "If nothing else, he had some skin in the game to want to come back and get his money back. And that's the purpose of bail, to make sure someone comes back to court."

We put the governor's bail reform to the test Thursday night. We found that of the 679 inmates in the Monroe County Jail on bail who had not been sentenced for the crime that put them there, 10 to 20 percent would be released. 

That equals somewhere between 70 and 130 inmates. 

Bail reform is in the state budget and the deadline to pass it on time is April 1. 

Click below for our previous reports: 

News10NBC investigates a 'very unjust system'

How many inmates would get out? News10NBC puts the gov's bail reform plan to the test


Berkeley Brean

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