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De Blasio Calls For Changes In State Bail, Diversion Programs In Wake Of Officer's Death

NEW YORK (CBSNewYork/AP) -- Mayor Bill de Blasio on Friday was calling for changes in the programs that he said allowed an accused cop killer to be out on the streets.

As CBS2 Political Reporter Marcia Kramer reported, the mayor is known for favoring leniency for nonviolent crimes and first-time offenders. But now, he wants judges to be able to throw the book at career criminals such as Tyrone Howard, who is accused of killing Officer Randolph Holder in cold blood.

"I'm a progressive person. I'm a humanitarian. But I can also tell you some people are irredeemable, and unless they are treated very, very differently, they pose a danger to our society," the mayor said at a news conference Friday.

De Blasio was furious that Howard was sent to a drug rehabilitation program and not incarcerated, after an arrest for allegedly selling crack cocaine last fall. At that time, Howard had a dozen arrests and convictions for drugs, robbery and public lewdness.

Howard was out on bail when he allegedly shot and killed Holder in East Harlem Tuesday night.

"The death of Officer Randolph Holder was a clear and tragic signal that we must ensure dangerous individuals with long criminal histories do not walk our streets," he said.

Right now, New York is one of only three states where judges are not allowed to consider how dangerous a criminal is or their risk to public safety when determining bail, according to the mayor. He said both of those factors could have kept Howard off the streets.

"Tyrone Howard would have gone to jail. He would not have continued to poison the community around him by selling drugs. He wouldn't have been roaming East Harlem on Tuesday and one of NYPD's good, decent, hard-working cops would still be alive today," de Blasio said.

At 30, Howard has been arrested more than two dozen times since he was 13 and sentenced to state prison twice since 2007 for drug possession and sale. One term came after he tried unsuccessfully for drug court in a 2011 case charging him with smoking PCP while carrying 22 bags of crack cocaine. Howard eventually pleaded guilty to drug possession.

In October 2014, he was charged with selling crack to an undercover officer. He was swept up as part of a larger drug case. Prosecutors sought six years behind bars.

But after reviewing Howard's record, troubled home life and longtime addiction, the judge agreed to refer his case for evaluation for drug court, where another judge OK'd Howard for the program.

The judge who handled the case said Howard, a longtime PCP user who despite his long rap sheet had no convictions for violent crimes, was a compelling candidate for drug court.

"I don't get a crystal ball when I get the robe,'' said state Supreme Court Justice Edward McLaughlin. He defended his decision as "accurate and appropriate,'' saying that doing time hadn't helped Howard before.

What the judge didn't know at the time was that in 2009, Howard was arrested in connection with a shooting that injured an 11-year-old and a 78-year-old.

Sources told CBS2 those records were sealed and Howard was granted youthful offender status, despite being 24, CBS2's Janelle Burrell reported.

After being approved for drug court, Howard was released on $35,000 bail in February and pleaded guilty to the drug charge in May.

He started missing monthly status meetings and various court dates in August, then became a suspect in a Sept. 1 shooting. An arrest warrant was issued Sept. 17, and police tried 10 times to locate him, authorities said.

Then, on Tuesday, Holder and his partner caught up with him while chasing after a bicycle thief, police said. Holder, 33, was shot in the head; Howard was wounded in the leg as police returned fire, police said.

Holder was a very productive officer, who logged 120 arrests in his five years on the NYPD. He received five commendations, and in the last year nabbed two people for possession of loaded .22-caliber handguns.

The mayor said Holder "cannot have died in vain."

The mayor, with the support of Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus R. Vance and New York Court of Appeals Chief Judge Jonathan Lippman, demanded that state law be changed so that judges can consider a defendant's risk to public safety before setting bail or agreeing to drug rehab.

"How could you possibly continue this fiction that judges should not consider public safety making bail decisions?" Lippman said. "It's backwards, it's wrong and it's a threat to the public."

But there was also a political component. The mayor was trying to reassure New Yorkers after Holder became the fourth police officer killed in 11 months.

"No one's ever going to believe he's tough on crime," said political consultant Hank Sheinkopf. "But what he's trying to do, however, is to say: 'Look, I'm fair on crime. I'm running down both sides, and you know what? Maybe there are some people who deserve to be in jail."

It is now up to Albany to make the changes. Spokesman for the state Senate and Assembly said they will review the mayor's proposals.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo's office did not return calls seeking comment.

And Officer Holder's father, Randolph Holder, is asking why a man with nearly two dozen arrests and multiple outstanding warrants even had the opportunity to shoot and kill his son.

"My grief will always be here. It never goes away," he said. "There's no justice."

Bu the Legal Aid Society opposes the mayor's call, saying judges have many options to ensure a return to court, 1010 WINS' Juliet Papa reported.

"Additionally, the law also allows judges to remand a person without bail in certain circumstances," the society said in a statement.

The society said the current statute "already gives judges the power to protect public safety."

"While the death of Police Officer Holder is a tragedy for the entire city, changing the law to undermine the presumption of innocence is not the answer and would have disastrous consequences for fairness in our criminal justice system," the society said.

Howard's lawyer, Brian Kennedy, has said there are "a lot of missing details'' in the case.

Drug Diversion Programs Have Long Been Subject Of Debate

Drug diversion programs have been embraced nationwide as a way to ease jail overcrowding and reduce crime by attacking it at one of its sources: drug abuse.

Since their start in Miami in 1989, drug diversion programs have multiplied to 2,500 courts across the country, together handling about 120,000 cases a year, according to the federal National Office of Drug Control Policy.

The agency calls the programs "a proven tool for improving public health and public safety.'' President Barack Obama mentioned them approvingly in a July speech, saying such programs can save taxpayer dollars.

Drug courts generally target nonviolent offenders who commit crimes to feed their addictions. The courts use treatment, drug testing, incentives and penalties to try to get defendants sober and straightened out.

"Drug courts are the most effective intervention in the justice system for individuals with substance abuse histories,'' Carson Fox, executive director of the National Association of Drug Court Professionals, said Wednesday.

Studies have credited drug courts with reducing recidivism and drug-use relapses. Some research estimates those reductions save society more money than the treatment costs, though some studies have found the opposite, according to a 2011 congressional report.

But some research has also found drug-court dropout rates of 60 percent, said David Lilley, a criminal justice professor at the University of Toledo.

And some prosecutors and police fear diversion sometimes ends up giving breaks to drug dealers who claim they're addicts to avoid prison.

"It's critically important that you get the right people'' into drug court, said Jim Pasco, executive director of the national Fraternal Order of Police. "You're making life-changing decisions for the subject and potentially life-threatening decisions for the public.''

Former U.S. attorney Zachary Carter said there will always be grey areas.

"But right now, we have a court system that has been guided by a century-old statue that commands judges to practically ignore dangerousness," he told WCBS 880's Marla Diamond.

(TM and © Copyright 2015 CBS Radio Inc. and its relevant subsidiaries. CBS RADIO and EYE Logo TM and Copyright 2015 CBS Broadcasting Inc. Used under license. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)

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