New York can breathe a sigh of relief as Officer Dennis Vargas, our eighth police officer shot on duty in just five months, recovers at home with the family he nearly left behind.
Vargas and his partner’s actions exemplify the type of dangerous work we ask our officers to perform every day to curb the scourge of gun violence that plagues our city. Sadly, the suspect’s criminal history and his avoidance of any real consequences for his actions by him exemplify the sham known as our criminal-justice system.
The two officers spotted the suspect, Rameek Smith, allegedly carrying a gun along 3rd Avenue in The Bronx, in one of the precincts Mayor Eric Adams correctly identified as responsible for 80% of the city’s violent crimes. The officers gave chase, and the suspect turned and fired, hitting Vargas in the arm. Police returned fire, killing Smith.
The searing question is why Smith, arrested nearly 2½ years ago with another illegal gun, was allowed out on the streets in the first place, ready and willing to commit another serious offense.
And Rameek Smith is no outlier. He’s the industry standard of a political protection racket that prioritizes violent perps over the decent people of our city.
In 2021, officers made 4,499 arrests of individuals carrying or using an illegal firearm. Of those, 46 are thankfully being prosecuted under federal law. Of the remaining 3,983, prosecutors declined to prosecute 260, while 983 were already dismissed outright or given an Adjournment in Contemplation of Dismissal (virtually a summons).
That means nearly a third of gun collars face absolutely no consequence beyond the minor speed bump of their arrest. Incredibly, 174 cases are recorded as lost in the Office of Court Administration system; a handful were covered by prosecutions of higher-level offenses; and 10 defendants died.
The real shocker: Only 710, or 17.9%, of the defendants were adjudicated guilty or ruled a youthful offender, with 698 given plea bargains. Only one case—yes, just one — ended in a conviction at trial.
And almost half are open cases, some dragging on for 18 months. Smith fit into this category. In 2020, he was charged with criminal possession of a weapon, a felony. At the time, he was already on probation for a 2016 robbery. He pleaded guilty to the gun charge in December, but a judge allowed him to remain free until sentencing. His sentencing was delayed multiple times prior to his death on Tuesday evening.
While our senseless bail laws get all the attention, laws that mandate judges place more criminals under supervised release, rather than in jail, are a much less heralded part of the Democrats’ criminal-justice “reforms.” But what’s the point of placing defendants like Smith on probation, or spending $100 million a year on an agency to supervise convicted criminals, if a subsequent arrest with a loaded gun does not prompt an immediate loss of the perp’s freedom?
And if Smith had been arrested rather than killed, what’s the under-over on how many years he’d have faced behind bars for criminal possession of a weapon? 12 months? Two years, at most?
Recall former Mayor Bill de Blasio boasted that our prison population has not been lower since World War II. Unfortunately, that means people like Smith out on the streets as a beneficiary of some backward woke policy goal.
In fact, many New Yorkers have started noticing that nearly all of the criminal-justice policy goals of progressive Democrats involve some combination of lowering the number of inmates; easing conditions in jails; hamstringing the police; vilifying correction officers; bankrolling non-profit criminal advocacy groups; ending bail for violent suspects; or decriminalizing antisocial behavior.
Have I missed anything?
After a quick skim of the Twitter feeds and e-mail blasts of many Democrats, I’m beginning to wonder what percentage of them prioritizes criminal defendants over crime victims. If anything, these social-media posts and the almost daily progressive screeds against “overcriminalization” in the face of emerging crime show us how far we have gone, and how far we have to go.
Joe Borelli is the minority leader of the New York City Council.