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Gov. Hochul recounts her crime fighting gains, but says it's not about playing defense on the issue

Gov. Kathy Hochul holds a rare press conference with the Albany press corps October 24, 2022. Joining her are acting state police superintendent Nigrelli and Attorney General Letitia James.
Mike Groll/Mike Groll/Office of Governor Ka
Gov. Kathy Hochul holds a rare press conference with the Albany press corps October 24, 2022. Joining her are acting state police superintendent Steven Nigrelli and Attorney General Letitia James.

New York Governor Kathy Hochul held a news conference to recount her efforts to fight crime in New York, and offered statistics that she says show the steps that she’s taken are working. The event comes as the governor appears to be losing ground on the issue to her republican challenger, Congressman Lee Zeldin.

Hochul, joined by state Attorney General Tish James and Acting State Police Superintendent Steven Nigrelli discussed several recent laws implemented under her watch to combat violent crime. She says changes made to the state’s Red Flag laws, following the May mass shooting in Buffalo that killed ten, have resulted in nearly 2,000 extreme risk orders of protection being issued.

“In each one of these cases, that’s perhaps a crime or an act of violence that didn’t occur, something that was prevented,” Hochul said. “It’s undeniable progress.”

Hochul says in addition, state and local police have seized 8,000 illegal guns in the past year. Attorney General James says her office has recovered 3,500 illegal weapons.

Hochul recounted other achievements, including calling a special session of the state legislature after the US Supreme Court in June struck down New York’s century old conceal carry laws, and created new requirements to obtain a gun permit. Some parts of that law have been put on hold, due to ongoing court challenges.

As a result of the changes, the governor says, the rate of gun related and other violent crimes in the state has decreased by 14% from the rate during the height of the pandemic, compared to a nationwide decrease of just 2%. And she says gun related deaths in New York, at around 5 per 100,000 people, has always been lower than in states including Mississippi, where the rate is 25 to 28 deaths per 100,000, and where there are few restrictions on guns.

Hochul’s presentation comes as several recent polls show the race for governor tightening, with GOP Congressman Lee Zeldin, who has focused on fighting crime as a top priority, gaining ground. Polls also indicate that many New Yorkers are more concerned about crime than other issues that Hochul has highlighted in her campaign, including abortion rights and threats to democracy.

But Hochul says she’s not reacting to the dynamics of the race.

I’m not letting the political theater out there effect what we’ve done,” Hochul said. “This is not a new issue for me and I think that’s well established.”

AG James also commented on remarks she made to a Buffalo TV station last week, where she indicated that the state’s bail reform laws, which ended many forms of cash bail, should be revisited. Zeldin has criticized the bail law changes, saying they have led to more crime.

James says she has long held the position that the bail reform laws need to be re examined, in the context of other criminal justice issues, but she says it’s a misstep to be “fixated” on bail reform.

“What I said was, we need to look at a panoply of issues, included, but not limited to bail reform,” said James who said other “drivers of crime” also need to be examined.

Hochul says there is “no daylight” between her position on the state’s criminal justice laws and James’s views.

Hochul has resisted calls by republicans, and some democratic District Attorneys, to call a special session of the legislature to fix perceived flaws in the laws. She says she wants to wait until the legislature is back in session in January, when there will be six months of data on changes made to the bail laws last spring that added more crimes to be bail eligible, and gave judges more discretion to set bail.

Republicans were unimpressed with Hochul’s and James’ event. The highest ranking GOP member of the state legislature, Senate Minority Leader Robert Ortt, called it an “Election Day ‘Hail Mary’."

Karen DeWitt is Capitol Bureau Chief for New York State Public Radio, a network of 10 public radio stations in New York State. She has covered state government and politics for the network since 1990. She is also a regular contributor to the statewide public television program about New York State government, New York Now. She appears on the reporter’s roundtable segment and interviews newsmakers. Karen previously worked for WINS Radio, New York, and has written for numerous publications, including Adirondack Life and the Albany newsweekly Metroland.