In the Bronx, Victims Get 24 Hours to Talk – Or the DA Lets the Accused Walk
A months-long WNYC investigation has revealed that those accused of crimes in the Bronx have a greater chance of walking away without any charges than anywhere else in the city.
The Bronx County District Attorney’s Office declines to prosecute thousands more cases than do the four other District Attorney offices – and one of the main reasons is an internal policy that cops say allows criminals to go free.
In the Bronx, if a victim isn’t interviewed by prosecutors within 24 hours after an arrest, the DA will almost always decline to prosecute the case — an internal policy followed by no other DA's office in the city.
Internal city records obtained by WNYC suggest this internal guideline is a big reason why Bronx prosecutors declined almost one quarter of all their cases last year. That’s nearly four times the rate in Manhattan and Brooklyn, according to data from the New York State Division of Criminal Justice Services. Manhattan and Brooklyn each see thousands more arrests than the Bronx.
Bronx District Attorney Robert Johnson declined to be interviewed for this article. But his chief assistant, Odalys Alonso, told WNYC that the longstanding requirement that victims come forward within 24 hours is both reasonable and just.
“When we decide to do a decline-to-prosecute, I’m very confident that we have real reasons not to bring the charges against that defendant,” said Alonso, who sat down for almost three hours of interviews over the last 10 months with WNYC. “Before we decline, we take great pains to ensure that it is the right decision.” She added, “Our office has had for a very long time this policy -- if you want to call it that — that our victims have to come forward early.”
In any District Attorney’s office, the decision to decline to prosecute a case is a decision that usually takes place within the first 24 hours after an arrest.
Internal city records obtained by WNYC show the most common reasons other prosecutors in the city make that choice is because there is insufficient evidence to support an arrest or the arrest paperwork is incomplete. The Bronx is the only borough in the city where prosecutors' most common reason is that a victim refused to cooperate, records show.
Bronx prosecutors have had the highest decline-to-prosecute rate in the city for 13 of the last 16 years, and state data shows that rate began climbing after Johnson took office as District Attorney in 1989.