New York City set to lessen penalties for some infractions in parks

NEW YORK (WABC) -- In just a few weeks big changes are coming to New York City parks.

For example if you ride your bike against traffic, stay in a park after it closes, or litter, it's no longer a crime.

"We should not saddle someone with an arrest record if it's a minor issue," Mayor Bill de Blasio said.

The mayor told Eyewitness News that he wants the change so police can focus on serious crimes, not the little stuff.

"Look, this is a city where we've driven crime down three years in a row, we're doing it by changing the relationship between police and community, by focusing on serious crime, not minor issues," Mayor de Blasio said.

So, for example, urinating in the park is no longer a misdemeanor, a crime with punishment of up to a year in jail and a $1,500 fine.

Instead, it's simply a rules violation which includes only one day in jail and a $200 fine.

"I think it's a good idea. We need to be very careful about how we criminalize people. In effect, we need to stop criminalizing people," said Dr. Robert Schacter, a psychologist.

Dr. Schacter is an expert on crime and social work.

He praises the mayor and city council for trying to clear out Rikers, for keeping this place for those charged with serious felonies.

"Our jails are clogged, they're overcrowded and people wind up in all kinds of situations that affect them for the rest of their lives," Dr. Schacter said.

But plenty of people are worried the change, downgrading crimes, could lead to a messy free-for-all in the parks this summer.

"Well obviously they'll lose control. I mean if there's less of a price to pay it is human nature," said Dennis Milstein, a park-goer.

"It shouldn't matter what the court system is clogged up with. If somebody does something they have to pay the price regardless," said Nikki Fitzgerald, a park-goer. "They shouldn't push that aside because they want to focus on bigger crimes, it's not fair."

The change is not completely a done deal, there's still a hearing on this set for May 22nd in Chelsea, but it probably won't make much of a difference. The changes are set to take effect in mid-June.
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