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NYPD's O'Neill: Rikers Plan Is 'Going To Put New Yorkers At Risk'

NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) - The City Council vote to close Rikers Island and open four small community jails with a greatly reduced capacity has the NYPD's top cop candidly telling CBS2 he's afraid the city won't be as safe.

NYPD Commissioner James O'Neill shared a warning and talked about his concerns for New York City with CBS2's political reporter Marcia Kramer.

"I'm concerned," said O'Neill. "I'm really concerned going forward with the reduced capacity that we'll be able to keep the city as safe as possible."

O'Neill worries that there won't be enough cells to house all the bad guys.

The four new jails across every borough except Staten Island will have 3,300 beds. Rikers now houses about 7,200.

MORE: City Council Approves Controversial Plan To Replace Rikers With Borough-Based Jails

"Look at where we are in 2019, look at the crime rate, the murder rate, the shooting rate," said O'Neill. "There's no guarantee that's going to continue forever."

Would this shortage of space put pressure on the NYPD to rethink the people they arrest because there's no room at any of these four facilities?

"That's not going to be a part of the strategy," said O'Neill.

Web Extra: Marcia Kramer On What Political Leaders Told Her About Closing Rikers

It could determine who gets put in jail and who is released, especially those who commit crimes like murder, rape, robbery assault and grand larceny.

"If you commit those crimes, there should be consequences, and if you have a significant criminal history you should be held pre-trail," he said. "Moving forward this is something we're going to have to work with city government that we can have the capacity to hold people that are committing serious crimes."

Council Speaker Corey Johnson insists there will be adequate space, partially because criminal justice reforms that come online in January, including a no-bail provision that will mean fewer people held before trial, Will reduce the prison population.

"We feel pretty good about where these numbers are, we think it's the right number," said Johnson. "We took in crime trends."

O'Neill thinks those reforms could also make the city less safe.

"Come January 1, there are going to be very few people that are bail eligible, so you're going to see people that have significant criminal histories, significant firearms histories, and they're not going to be held in," said O'Neill. "That's going to put people at risk, put New Yorkers at risk, put victims at risk and put witnesses at risk."

Rikers is supposed to close by 2026. By then, there will be a new mayor and a new city council. The people who voted today will be long gone because of term limits.

If the space needs were miscalculated, the new city officials could be facing an entirely different criminal justice dilemma.

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