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Manhattan DA Alvin Bragg Discuses Justice Reform & Plan To Stop Prosecuting Certain Crimes At National Action Network

NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) -- Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg said Saturday gun crimes are a top priority under his plan to fight crime in the city.

As CBS2's Natalie Duddridge reported, Bragg spoke about his new policies, which have drawn criticism from police unions, at the National Action Network in Harlem.

"I've had a semi-automatic weapon pointed at my head. I've been shot at," said Bragg. "So don't tell me about guns. I know about guns."

Bragg, speaking at the National Action Network's House of Justice on West 145th Street and Malcolm X Boulevard, had a message for the crowd.

"My top priority, and I've been talking about this not just for two years, but for decades, is guns," Bragg said.

Bragg said fighting the most serious crimes requires more effort.

He has directed his office to shift away from prosecuting lesser crimes like marijuana misdemeanors, prostitution and fare evasion.

"It's going to give us the resources to focus on guns and to focus on domestic violence," he said.

Bragg does not believe longer sentences deter crime. He supports "lesser charges for some low level drug offenders and for some burglaries," but said the changes should not be misunderstood.

"If you go into a store in Manhattan and use a gun to rob that store, that is armed robbery. That is serious and will be prosecuted as armed robbery in Manhattan," Bragg said.

The new policies have drawn criticism from the Police Benevolent Association, which worries about potential effects on people who live and work in the borough.

NYPD Commissioner Keechant Sewell sent an email to the department's rank and file saying, "I have studied these policies and I am very concerned about the implications to your safety as police officers, the safety of the public and justice for the victims."

Sewell went on to say, "I believe in reform that make sense... In that same vein, I am concerned about sweeping edicts that seem to remove discretion, not just from police officers, but also from Assistant District Attorneys regarding what crimes to persecute and how to charge them."

In response, Bragg said, "To all my partners in law enforcement, let's also be clear about another thing, if you are assaulted, that is a serious matter and a crime and that will be prosecuted as such."

Last week, Mayor Eric Adams said he was still analyzing the plans.

Adams and Sewell are calling for a meeting between lawmakers, DAs and law enforcement to find common ground.

The DA aims to invest more in programs to keep offenders out of jail, limit the number of youth tried as adults and provide support for those returning home after incarceration.

Editor's note: This story was first published Jan. 8.

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