News10NBC Investigates: Think everyone gets out of jail after a gun arrest? Here’s our bail test.
ROCHESTER, N.Y. If you thought everyone arrested for having a gun got a ticket and then got released, watch what our investigation found.
A lot of people have told us they think everyone gets out of custody because of bail reform and they blame the reform on the crime we’re suffering through now.
That’s why the News10NBC investigative team went to court to see what happens for ourselves.
We wanted to see who gets bail, who goes to jail and who gets out. Several times a week starting in October, we went to Rochester City Court and tracked people arrested for a felony. Felony arraignments are scheduled from 9:30 a.m. to 10 a.m. Monday through Saturday.
We recorded the defendant’s name, the alleged crime and the bail. Of the 59 defendants we witnessed, 41 of them either got sent to jail without bail or got bail, which means they went to jail until they got the money to get out. Of the 22 people charged with possessing a loaded gun, 19 got jailed after their arraignment.
“It appears to me looking at the evidence you’ve compiled that in gun cases courts are setting bail,” said acting Monroe County Public Defender Erik Teifke. “Bail reform did not strip away the authority of a court to set bail in a loaded gun case.”
Teifke does not believe the rise in crime in Rochester is linked to bail reform. But the rise in violent crime coincides with it. In the three years before the reform started in 2020, there were just over 500 shootings in Rochester. In the three years since there’s been more than a thousand.
“Well, put it like this, there’s an interesting coincidence,” Michael Patterson said.
That shooting data comes from Rochester city council member Michael Patterson and that’s why he and five of the nine city council members signed a letter asking the governor to allow judges to jail people arrested for having a gun if they think they’re dangerous.
Brean: “When we have gone to court recently what we find is the people who are getting arrested for possessing a gun are getting bail.”
Michael Patterson, Rochester City Council: “Bail! Yes!”
Brean: “And they’re going to jail. So haven’t things changed?”
Patterson: “Well, no, so here’s what happens. They’ll get bail and then they’ll make bail and they’ll get out of jail. And the request is to give a judge some heightened discretion for those gun charges.”
Our snapshot of felony cases shows of the 41 people sent to jail, 15 posted bail or got released. And three of those were gun cases. The district attorney’s office says a handful of defendants sent to jail without bail during our review have since been released because the victims in the cases stopped cooperating with police.
Behind all this data are real people who are hurting.
“Oh my God. Shattered me,” said Nina Becoats-Gaines. “Shattered me into a million pieces.”
Several years ago, Nina Becoats-Gaines lost her son to gun violence. Kenneth was 21 years old.
Brean: “If you would change one thing when it comes to bail, especially people caught with guns, what would you do?”
Nina Becoats-Gaines: “I wouldn’t give them bail. I would give them a solution.”
Brean: “So stay in jail until your trial. But while they’re in jail…”
Becoats-Gaines: “Reform them. Educate them.”
“What do you think of that?” I asked Erik Teifke.
“I think it would be dangerous,” he said. “It reeks of unfettered discretion.”
Teifke says bail was reformed because some judges abused their power to keep people jailed and typically set bail so high people languished in jail because they didn’t have the money.
In the cases we saw, the District Attorney’s office almost always requested bail at $20,000 to $50,000.
The city court judges typically set it lower. $15,000. $10,000. $5,000. $1,000.
Our data shows the defendants with bail of $10,000 and higher are still in custody. The defendants with bail below $10,000 are currently released.
According to the review in the bail reform report titled “One Year Later” by the Center for Court Innovation, the reform law says “requires judges to consider a defendant’s ‘individual financial circumstances’ when setting bail.”
Teifke says judges are supposed to set a bail amount that is financially “painful but attainable.”
“One Year Later” says New York State “does not afford judges the ability to set bail or detain someone based on perceptions of their pretrial risk to public safety.”
We told Teifke about the people we talk to.
Brean: “I think they would say that they’re out there in the community, they live in these neighborhoods, they hear gunshots at night and something’s got to happen.”
Erik Teifke: “I agree. Locking up everyone accused of a crime is not that something.”
District Attorney Sandra Doorley declined to talk to me about this story. But in her newsletter last week, she said 47 percent of people charged with a loaded gun this year are either released or their bail was set at $5,000 or less.
In 2020 it was 96 percent of the cases.