For non-sporty Americans, this year’s Super Bowl perhaps has some interest, thanks to the presence of Taylor Swift. For Swifties, the pop star’s glam, custom-made Kansas City Chiefs’ couture, in support of boyfriend Travis Kelce, makes some dumb old football game a cause for excitement. Given her all-pervasive cultural presence, maybe Swift can also bring attention to an issue that more New Yorkers should care about: crime victims.
On Wednesday, New York’s creepiest Swift fan, the alleged persistent stalker David Crowe, was back in court, where his lawyer maintained that his dangerousness is the result of mental illness, not criminal malice. Prosecutors are considering that argument, but either way, Crowe will remain safely locked up, either in jail or a hospital.
Swift’s experience with stalking has given her devoted fans some vicarious experience of worrying about the safety of a loved one. Why, they have pleaded on social media and online forums, is the system not protecting their idol from a man whose behavior is erratic and disturbed, and clearly compelled by unwavering obsession? Why did the system not treat the threat as immediate, given that others—including stalkers—have already broken into Swift’s Manhattan home numerous times?
How evident was Crowe’s intent? He reportedly lurked around Swift’s chichi Tribeca apartment about 30 times in recent weeks— and this after a 911 call describing his “disorderly” presence first brought cops to the scene, where they found him trying to open the door to Swift’s building. Police arrested him on an open warrant for an unpaid 2017 ticket and later released him. Crowe was allegedly back two days later, asking the building’s security guard to get him access to speak to Swift. He was then arrested for stalking and harassment, and the judge slapped a restraining order on him.
Because New York State’s ill-constructed 2020 “bail reform” law made all of these offenses ineligible for bail, the Manhattan District Attorney’s office could not request that Crowe be detained pretrial. The law, in fact, imposed this limitation for a host of other red-flag-type crimes, like lightly assaulting strangers or smashing up and pilfering a synagogue. Judges are also banned from setting bail for almost all nonviolent felony offenses, including grand larceny, setting cars on fire, or selling large amounts of drugs. The law made more than 350 charges no longer “bailable”—no matter how dangerous a judge considers the defendant before him.
As data from the Manhattan District Attorney’s office make clear, the law change starkly increased the number of offenders who now go footloose and fancy-free pretrial. Before bail reform, more than half of the felony cases arraigned were ordered held pretrial—almost 5,200 cases in 2018. Last year, Manhattan judges could detain only 38 percent, or 2,780 cases. For misdemeanors, the percentage with defendants ordered held in jail dropped by 73 percent, from more than an eighth of cases to less than a twentieth.
Out and free to roam, Crowe was asked to leave Swift’s building by its guard at least ten times following his second arrest, until he was rearrested, for violating the restraining order. Finally eligible for bail and remand, he’s now stowed at Rikers awaiting trial in March or transfer to a medical institution for psychiatric treatment.
The outcome of Crowe’s case was not surprising. According to a revealing report released this week by Data Collaborative for Justice, a research center that has championed progressive reforms but can no longer dance around the obvious, New York court system data makes clear that, statewide, bail reform “tended to increase recidivism for people facing more serious charges and with recent criminal histories, operationalized as a recent prior arrest or recent prior violent felony.” Yup.
This reality is also apparent through even a brief glance at data available through the Criminal Justice Agency, which runs the supervised-release programs that have replaced incarceration for a growing population of city offenders. It shows a terrifying increase in the number of defendants prosecuted for new crimes while on pretrial release. From the first quarter of 2019, prior to bail reform, to the first quarter of 2022, violent felony rearrests rose by 50 percent, from 985 to 1,468. The trend has continued.
For habitual offenders like Crowe, the rate of rearrest while free pending trial has skyrocketed. For offenders with three or more pending cases, violent-felony rearrests rose by 169 percent, to 237 (within just a three-month period). For nonviolent felonies, rearrests rose by 44 percent, to 273. Even for misdemeanants, rearrests rose by 60 percent, to 477 rearrests.
It’s past time to fix the bail statute and allow judges full discretion to detain dangerous people. When it comes to public safety, we should all be treated like pop stars.
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