After the shooting death of NYPD Officer Randolph Holder, New York City’s programs focused on providing offenders with alternatives to prison time have come under new scrutiny, the New York Times reports today. Opponents of these programs are welcome to debate against their merits (they’d be wrong about that too), but they cannot claim in good faith that the programs had a single thing to do with Holder’s death.
Holder, a five-year NYPD officer, was shot and killed in uptown Manhattan in October, allegedly by Tyrone Howard, a man who had previously been offered a jail diversion program in lieu of a sentence. But Howard wasn’t out on the street that night because of diversion. He was out on bail.
Howard’s status as someone who may have otherwise avoided going to jail has sent some in the city into a panic over diversion programs, which arguably make the city safer on the whole, despite this one instance. (Studies have shown that the programs are effective at both reducing recidivism and helping addicts kick drugs.)
“I’m a progressive person, I’m a humanitarian, but I can also tell you some people are irredeemable,” Bill de Blasio said in October, in apparent condemnation of the second chance that Howard was offered. When you have to reassure everyone that you’re progressive and humanitarian before you say something, it’s probably because what you’re about to say isn’t particularly progressive or humane.
But keeping Howard out of the diversion program would not have saved Holder’s life, as Gawker noted in the immediate aftermath of the killing. That’s because in 2014, Howard was arrested as part of a drug sting in an East Harlem housing project and pled guilty, taking addiction treatment instead of going to trial and risking prison. He also posted bail, meaning that even if the program had never been on the table, he would have been out of jail and free to shoot and kill a cop on October 20.
Perhaps this is a small sticking point. A man is dead—who cares about the court system technicalities of the man who allegedly killed him? But it’s a small sticking point that those who’d rather see every project-hallway drug customer locked up forever—rather than put into rehab—are using to argue against programs that actually work. The criminal justice reformer de Blasio and NYPD Commissioner Bill Bratton both railed against diversion programs after the shooting. And the Times reports that Brooklyn cops are increasingly bringing gun cases to federal prosecutors instead of the borough’s district attorney, Ken Thompson, because Thompson supports diversion.
Thompson, however appears to be sticking to his principles. “If folks think that putting every young person we catch in a gang in prison is going to result in them coming out living law-abiding lives, that’s not realistic,” the DA told the Times. “It is not.”