Former City Comptroller and mayoral hopeful Bill Thompson, flanked by Assemblyman Kareem Camara and City Councilman Fernando Cabrera, called for an end to the statewide practice of charging non-violent 16- and 17-year-old offenders as adults.
According to Thompson, nearly 1,000 teens in New York receive permanent criminal records yearly "for acts that in other states wouldn't even be considered a crime."
New York is only one of two states in the country in which 16-year-olds are charged as adults. The other is North Carolina.
This initiative is not out of the realm of possibility, according to Richard Aborn, president of the non-partisan Citizens Crime Commission of New York City: New York State Chief Judge Jonathan Lippman has put forward a bill to the state legislature that would raise the age of criminal responsibility to 18.
Proposing legislation is something the chief judge does very selectively, Aborn said, so showing specific concern for this issue is indicative of a real sea change in criminal justice in New York state.
Thompson linked the issue to the Trayvon Martin verdict, which he spoke at length about at a Brooklyn church on Sunday. He reiterated his belief that the verdict was a result of race-based "institutionalized suspicion."
Previously seen as perhaps the least critical of stop-and-frisk among the Democratic mayoral candidates, Thompson on Sunday rued that "here in New York City, we have institutionalized Mr. Zimmerman's suspicion with a policy that all but requires our police officers to treat young black and Latino men with suspicion, to stop them and frisk them because of the color of their skin."
Today he insisted his "position on stop-and-frisk is still the same thing," and clarified that his issue is with what the police department refers to as "performance goals" and NYPD critics call a quota system.
Thompson denied any need for the two City Council bills that the Council and the mayor are currently battling over, which would establish stricter and more wide-reaching anti-profiling regulations and install an inspector general to have oversight over the NYPD.
"It is a question of having a mayor who believes in something and is strong enough to stand up and say we are not going to have profiling in my city, and making sure there is a police commissioner who agrees," Thompson said, also advocating "training and other things" and criticizing the Impact Program, a NYPD initiative that places rookie cops is the highest-crime neighborhoods around the city.
He allowed that the anti-profiling measures that are already in place are adequate, but criticized the mayor and the police commissioner for insufficient enforcement.
In lieu of prosecuting non-violent minors as adults, Thompson proposed the adoption of a policing model used in High Point, North Carolina, which advocates law enforcement and community members confronting non-violent suspects in a public setting and offering help and services, with the caveat that a repeat offense will result in arrest and prosecution.
Thompson also took the opportunity to push for greater investment in summertime employment programs for the city's youth, which he said are underfunded, and could benefit from an estimated $50 million he said could be saved by no longer prosecuting 16- and 17-year-olds as adults.
And Councilman Cabrera took the opportunity to officially endorse "Billy Thompson" for his "character, charisma and chemistry."
"We need to get our young people so busy doing good that they'll be too tired to do bad," Cabrera said. "That's a plan that I think is a genius plan."
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