Drug task force detective blames bail reform for loss of credibility

Published: Mar. 15, 2023 at 5:16 PM EDT
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WATERTOWN, New York (WWNY) - A detective with the Metro-Jeff Drug Task Force says bail reform policies are causing the force to lose credibility on the streets and have a harder time building cases because witnesses are scared of retaliation.

“There was a point in time not too long ago when there was a reputation in Jefferson County that was known throughout the state prison system - you don’t want to go up there. They got a good task force. They are reigning people in,” said Detective Perry Golden, Metro-Jeff Drug Task Force.

But, Golden says that has changed. He blames New York’s bail reform policies that took effect in 2020. The reform frees most of those charged with misdemeanors and many non-violent felonies, pending trial.

“When we deal with the same people over and over again, we are oftentimes educating them and training them on our techniques and it makes it much more difficult to catch them the next time,” said Golden.

He says these so-called “catch and release” laws are also making it harder to build cases.

Since many of these low-level offenders are let go almost immediately, he says many witnesses are scared to talk because they fear for their life.

“The retaliation may be nothing more than being outed, per se, but if you are a drug user, you don’t want that information that you are talking to the police. That could be very dangerous,” said Golden.

Despite these laws, Jefferson County District Attorney Krystina Mills says the county’s crime rate over the past 5 years is down 18 percent, and violent crime is down 8 percent.

Although accused criminals may get out quickly, the DA’s office is continuing to put people away at record rates

“We still have a 95 percent drug conviction rate in this county. We are sending 76 percent of all drug dealers to some sort of incarceration which is far higher than the state average which is in the 50s,” said Mills.

Mills adds when people are jailed, they get help with their drug or alcohol addictions and mental health. Since fewer people go to jail, less help is given which she says is hurting the community instead of trying to make it better.