Manhattan Institute

Don’t Embarrass the Criminals!

Andrew Cuomo’s latest sop to the progressive Left is to ban mugshots.

New York governor Andrew Cuomo is urging the exemption of mugshot photos and arrest booking information from public disclosure under New York’s freedom of information laws. This is understandable, given the impressive montage that might be made from mugshots of one-time Cuomo aides, advisors, and associates now on their way to prison, but it nevertheless raises serious civil-liberties issues around press freedom and public information—and it seems like yet another gubernatorial pander toward the Democratic Party’s crime-coddling Left.

Cuomo isn’t the only politician moving in this direction. Virtually the entire Democratic presidential field has embraced it to one degree or another, as has every elected Democrat of note in New York. And Cuomo is typical of the state party’s establishment. He long ago embraced sanctuary-statism. He has turned a blind eye to the wholesale theft of mass-transit services—that is, fare evasion—that cost the MTA $215 million last year. He’s on board with the refusal of most New York City district attorneys to enforce laws against the public use of illegal drugs, and he strongly backs the legalization of marijuana. He hasn’t said a word about the de Blasio administration’s effective abandonment of quality-of-life policing in the streets, or about the need for discipline in public schools.

These positions are rooted in the left-wing notion that “social justice” must take precedence over criminal justice when enforcement of certain laws falls disproportionately on favored demographic groups. It’s the doctrine of disparate impact, along with its cousin in the public schools, restorative justice—together, the two concepts are turning conventional standards of accountability on their head.

In practice, disparate-impact theory and restorative justice leave public spaces more dangerous and dysfunctional because criminals remain on the streets and disruptive students aren’t removed from classrooms. The irony: members of protected minority groups who obey the law and behave in class are disproportionately harmed by peers or classmates who don’t. The rest of the city suffers, too—witness Upper West Side and Union Square residents chipping in to hire private security guards. Cuomo’s opposition to mugshots is the latest variation on this theme, given the demographics of crime in New York. If we can’t avoid arresting people, he seems to be saying, let’s at least try not to embarrass them.

It’s a bad idea. Barring the public release of arrest and related information is not only a step away from long-standing tradition; it’s also a move toward corrupt law enforcement, to say nothing of Soviet-style secret arrest and prosecution. And it would deprive communities of necessary crime and public-safety information.

Cuomo’s mugshot proposal underscores a retreat from diligence when law enforcement clashes with politicized issues of race and ethnicity. The governor and his fellow progressive Democrats have much to answer for in this regard—especially since their devotion to political correctness is having tangible effects in other areas.

Cuomo’s recent State of the State message contained not one word, for example, about enhanced law-enforcement as a component in Albany’s so-far-losing effort to combat opioid abuse. To the contrary, Cuomo fulsomely praised his own efforts to reduce prison capacity—even as opioid-related overdose deaths are setting records and criminal gangs smuggling Chinese-produced artificial opioids are becoming more muscular in the nation’s cities, especially in the Northeast. It’s probably no coincidence that New York’s opioid problem began spiraling toward an epidemic around the same time that the state repealed, incrementally, its mandatory drug-sentencing laws—though that’s an argument certainly open to debate. What’s beyond doubt, though, is that mandatory-sentencing laws fell heavily on African-Americans, which helped initiate the “disparate impact” controversy and essentially foreclosed new criminal laws tailored to opioids.

Send an illegal opioid supplier off to prison? If Cuomo has his way, you won’t even be allowed to put his picture in the paper.

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