Would a ‘dangerousness standard’ help reduce gun violence?

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ROCHESTER, N.Y. – Would keeping suspected shooters locked up while they await trial keep our streets safer – or infringe on their constitutional rights? 

It’s a debate that seems to have divided many in the Rochester community. 

Some city leaders say a dangerousness standard has to be considered as Rochester tries to get the number of shootings and murders under control. 

“When Black and brown people shoot Black and brown people, the activist community and the political community is shockingly silent,” says City Councilmember Michael Patterson.

“I’m not here to talk about bail reform. I am in favor of a dangerousness standard tied specifically to individuals facing gun charges,” he adds. 

Patterson, along with Councilmembers LaShay Harris, Willie Lightfoot, Jose Peo and President Miguel Melendez penned a letter to Gov. Kathy Hochul asking her to give judges discretion to hold defendants if they deem them dangerous. 

“In many instances, our communities are safe in that window where the gunman is in jail raising the money to get out of jail. That’s our timeout from terror,” Patterson says. “But right after they make bail, bond or [get released on their own recognizance], they come back out in our community, they go back to the gun, and they keep doing what they’re doing.”

Former Monroe County District Attorney Mike Green, who also served as the head of the NYS Department of Criminal Justice Services, has studied the question of holding a suspect without bail based upon his or her dangerousness to the community.

“The reason New York State historically didn’t consider it is twofold: One, the value that we placed on the presumption of innocence, and two, the issue of racial disparity,” he tells News10NBC. 

Green, who is now a professor of criminal justice at Rochester Institute of Technology, says those disparities would be even more pronounced in Rochester.

“We have incredibly high rates of poverty in the areas of our community that have high rates of gun violence. We, in many ways, still have a segregated community. We have segregated schools. We have segregated neighborhoods,” Green said.

He also believes the data simply doesn’t show that adding a dangerousness standard would have a big enough impact on reducing gun crimes. Green points particularly to the three years before the pandemic hit.

“Somehow as a state, we managed to reduce homicides from 2600 (in the early 90ss) to less than 600 and during that entire time judges could not consider dangerousness,” he tells News10NBC. “Don’t get me wrong. Just because I think that adding a dangerousness standard to our statute is not going to solve our problems, I do think aggressively investigating gun crimes, trying to make sure we arrest people who commit crimes with guns, and trying to make sure we hold them accountable, is important,” he says. 

So what other options are available? 

“We are funding Pathways to Peace. We literally are funding a program where we have folks who go out and talk to the shooters to give them other options to encourage them to do differently,” Patterson says. “We are funding every program that we can get our hands on. You got an idea? Send it in. We might fund it.”

In his research, Green points to a few options that have proven successful in other areas of the state and country, starting with a commitment to train every police officer on identifying implicit bias and promoting respectful and transparent interactions with the public. “You combine procedural justice training with hotspot policing and get some very good results,” he tells News10NBC. 

Then, Green says, you work ahead. He points to a recent test case in another city.

“They had crime analysts looking through Facebook posts and when they found Facebook posts of young kids with guns, they would send teams out to talk to the parent and the young person and try and basically get in the middle of things or prevent things before they happened. They did 500 visits in one year and had a noticeable decline in gun violence,” Green explains. 

A spokesman for the Rochester Police Department says officers receive procedural justice training in the academy which is certified by the state’s department of criminal justice services. Existing officers were trained in procedural justice as part of in-service training several years ago, as well. It also has a partnership with the Monroe County Sheriff’s Office, which has a unit that monitors social media threats.