Police and prosecutors say the state's bail and criminal justice reforms will significantly raise law enforcement budgets and could lead to more witness tampering, more defendants skipping court, and less witness cooperation.

“It’s going to affect the safety of our communities, that’s the bottom line,” said Crawford town Police Chief Dominick Blasko, who also heads the Orange County Police Chiefs Association.

“We have to find ways to fix that, and somebody has to give us the money to fix that,” said Orange County District Attorney David Hoovler.

As of Jan. 1, when someone is arrested, prosecutors in New York must turn over evidence, witness info, documents, recordings and other relevant information to the defense, a process known as discovery, within 15 days of a defendant’s first court appearance. Previously, prosecutors just had to turn over much of that information by trial.

Also as of Jan. 1, except for those charged with violent crimes, sex offenses and certain other crimes, people charged with criminal offenses, including low-level and almost all drug felonies will be released without bail. For those charged with specific “qualifying offenses,” including most violent felonies, a judge decides whether to release them with or without conditions, set bail, or order them jailed without bail.

Hold on to your wallet

The state Legislature didn’t include any funding for the reforms, Hoovler said.

“A lot of the costs, and a lot of what’s going to happen, is going to fall on our municipalities,” Hoovler said.

Right now, most local police departments have their own computer operating systems and their own way of doing things, their own collective bargaining agreements that govern things like scheduling and overtime. Smaller village and town courts may hold sessions just once or twice per month, which has left plenty of time for part-time officers to file paperwork before the court date. The system has developed and been in place for the past 40 years or so.

“We have to devise an entire new system at the DA’s Office, in conjunction with the sheriff, in conjunction with all those police departments, in under six months,” Hoovler said.

That will mean upgraded computers and systems to handle the sheer volume of materials, additional staff to handle document review and organization, and longer hours for prosecutors, police and the defense. All on the taxpayer’s dime.

“This is going to be labor- and personnel-intensive to comply with it,” Sullvan County District Attorney Jim Farrell said.

Hoovler said police in Orange County will see 14-22 percent budget increases for staffing and overtime.

"The (Orange County) DA’s Office will be 15 to 20 percent also,” Hoovler said. “It’s going to require us to go to a 12-hour day. And weekends.”

Hoovler said he’s looking at buying 50 new laptops for his office at a cost of $90,000. He already had AT&T visit every court in the county to assess their wi-fi capabilities and bandwidth, issues that will affect prosecutors’ ability to transfer the required evidence electronically to defense lawyers.

Gary Abramson, chief attorney with the Legal Aid Society of Orange County, said indigent defense will likely have funding, thanks to the state's 5-year plan to fund every defense agency in the state in order to guarantee the right to counsel.

In major cases, said Hoovler’s second-in-command, Chief Assistant District Attorney Christopher Borek, the office may have to send evidence to private labs to get results in time for the discovery deadlines.

Despite the logistical burdens, Hoovler and Farrell both support discovery reform in general.

“I like turning discovery over early,” Farrell said. “I think it creates an incentive to speak, to talk, to resolve.”

Hoovler said he anticipates a 70 percent increase in hearings and arguments, and more trials, with the attendant added costs.

Abramson said it'll take about six months to know if trial number goes up, and it depends whether prosecutors take more cases to trial or offer more lenient pleas.

“Bureaucracies hate anything new,” Abramson said. “But in six months, they’ll get used to it, and we’ll make adjustments.”

More stuff, less time

If prosecutors fail to turn over all of the required discovery documentation within 15 days, they are deemed not ready for trial, which opens the possibility of a judge dismissing the case for violations of the defendant’s speedy-trial rights.

Hoovler and Farrell say they already turn over a great deal of the evidence early on, but the new law requires a very tight deadline for much more documentation.

“In about 20,000 cases that we prosecute in a year, everything gets turned over to the defense in three to five percent of the cases,” Hoovler said. The rest resolve by plea or other disposition. “Now, we will have to turn over everything in 20,000 cases.”

Discovery can be voluminous. A recent fatal hit-and-run case generated police reports, the crash reconstruction and report (which takes 12-18 weeks) and videos police got from nearly a dozen places near the crime scene. Those multi-megabyte videos had to be copied, transferred and turned over to the defense. Data storage for just that case costs about $200, and it must be stored in perpetuity in case of appeal, Hoovler said.

Once that documentation is handed over, the defense has to go through it all.

“We’re talking about hiring either a lawyer or a paralegal who will do much of the initial reviewing, maybe highlight it and give the documents to the client,” Abramson said. “It’s going to be an enormous amount of work, and it’s going to arrive as rapidly or as slowly as defendants do.”

They’ll need someone computer-savvy, and they’ll need to upgrade the office's computers, something due next year anyway, Abramson said.

You’re (not) in the jailhouse now

Orange County Undersheriff Kenneth Jones and Sullivan County Undersheriff Eric Chaboty said bail reform’s impact on the jails isn’t yet clear, other than that they expect some reduction in inmate population.

Staffing requirements and posts at county jails are set by the state Commission on Corrections, based on the physical layout, Jones said.

On a given day, Jones said, the Orange County Jail might have 100 or so inmates in on misdemeanors, but most are in and out within a day. The sheriffs will have to pore over long-term operations to figure out where they can save and where they must spend, Jones said.

The law enforcement officials expect an increase in bench warrants, issued when someone skips court. Chaboty said he's heard from colleagues in New Jersey that more failures to appear increased after that state enacted bail reform in 2017.

“They said it’s a nightmare,” Chaboty said. “They’re driving all over the state picking up people on bench warrants.”

Farrell said that Sullivan County is already seeing an increase in rearrests, sometimes in other jurisdictions. If a Sullivan defendant ends up in Riker’s or federal detention in New York City, he said, “It’s a whole day. You take two officers off the street for a full day.”

That’s another thing that needs funding, Hoovler said.

After bail reforms go into effect, Borek said, the office expects a lot of complaints from the public about why defendants are being released. They also expect a rise in witness intimidation, and the office is working on a way to provide the required discovery in a way that minimizes pain for victims.

“We’re going to move for protective orders when we can. But again, we’ll have to go through voluminous material. You’re going to go by this building at night and see lights still on.”

Blasko's officers will have to adapt the way they protect crime victims.

“We’ve worked so hard on getting help for victims,” Blasko said. “In one fell swoop, they’ve made defendants have more rights than victims.”

Farrell said his office is already battling cultural taboos against ”snitching,” and the disclosure rules may worsen that.

“I believe cases will go unsolved,” he said. “My concern is that victims are going to suffer, because they’re going to feel the pressure.”

Don’t forget your court date

The criminal justice reforms require someone, either the courts or a designated pre-trial services agency, to notify each defendant in advance of each court date. While New York City has a structure in place, said state Office of Court Administration spokesman Lucian Chalfen, no such system is in place upstate, and six months out there’s no determination of who will handle the duties.

“There’s been discussion,” Chalfen said. “Has it been figured out yet? No.”

Most upstate counties have some kind of pre-trial program in place, he said, but “it would have to be really beefed up for this.”

Defendants who get reminders five days before their court date have a better rate of attending court, said Barbara Martin, Sullivan County’s probation director.

“There are a lot of questions on how everything is going to be implemented,” she said, but her office’s existing pre-trial release probation officer will likely continue to provide those services.

Martin said she expects her office will need another pre-trial release person, plus money for overtime costs as they track down defendants who fail to appear in court.

Martin said there are still questions on whether judges can jail drug-court participants who violate the rules, or people charged with violating probation.

Counties will have to foot the bill for defendants released on electronic monitoring, and Martin said it’s unclear who will supervise those defendants: pre-trial release, because they’re are out of jail, or the jail, because they’re still considered to be in custody?

Hoovler and Farrell worry that defendants who are released will have no incentive to participate in drug treatment courts.

Abramson pointed out that those defendants still have a prison sentence hanging over their heads, and many of them want the treatment to help straighten out their lives.

Hoovler said he’s looking at putting together “a massive diversion program” to funnel more people to treatment before filing criminal charges. Police are on board, he said, but it would require partnerships with non-profits and government agencies to provide the help. But again, that requires funding.

“Reforms were needed in a lot of areas,” Hoovler said. “But to pass reforms without consulting with the DAs, without consulting with the police chiefs, without consulting with the sheriffs, is an entirely flawed process. And not to fund it is unconscionable.”