Now to bail reform. It was meant to keep non-violent offenders who couldn’t make bail out of jail awaiting trial, but a loophole allowed those possessing illegal weapons to go free. The state attorney general’s asking the courts to close that loophole after Jersey City Mayor Steve Fulop made a similar request. NJTV News Correspondent David Cruz spoke with him.
Cruz: So mayor, you caused a stir recently by suggesting some changes into what you call a loophole into the bail reform system. Let’s start by explaining where this loophole is.
Fulop: I don’t know if it’s a loophole or a mistake, but I think at the end of the day when the Trenton legislators decided that carrying an illegal firearm was classified as a non-violent crime and releasing more than 50 percent of the people that we arrested right away, clearly to me that was a mistake. If you’re carrying an illegal gun, your intentions are violent and so you should be treated as such.
Cruz: You might not be surprised to know that some of your critics called it several things. They called in grandstanding, first of all, and then the ACLU says that it compares the new system to perfection, not the old system and The Star-Ledger this week said it’s a mad dash to change reform based on anecdotes.
Fulop: So, I agree with 98 percent of bail reform. I don’t think money should be the factor whether you stay in jail or you get released. However, carrying an illegal gun should not be classified similarly in any way to smoking weed or being caught carrying it. I think that carrying an illegal gun is a serious crime. Today criminals know that they will get out right away. They antagonize the police officers and some of the people we have arrested again weeks later. So whether it’s Trenton, whether it’s Newark or Camden or Jersey City, I think any mayor who’s involved in this would tell you that it’s a cycle of the same characters again and again and this will hopefully change it.
Cruz: The suggestion is that that was the case before there was reform.
Fulop: Yeah, but you want to be serious on guns. So guns is a serious offense, an illegal gun in particular is what we’re discussing, that needs to be clamped down because it terrorized neighborhoods. So if you want to turn the cycle of your cities on violence, you need to make sure that the people who are carrying guns know there are serious repercussions if they get caught carrying it. Today that’s not the case and we need to change that in the bail reform.
Cruz: What is wrong with a judge having the discretion?
Fulop: So the way it works today is that…
Cruz: Because you put out some numbers that said in 79 instances where prosecutors asked for detention, 66 of those were granted.
Fulop: So the state gave numbers and we’ll go back and forth. I mean numbers are numbers, they all point to the same thing that justifies their position. The state would say over half of the people arrested with gun offenses were released immediately. ACLU will say something different. My point is that you need to classify carrying an illegal gun as a very serious offense, not as a medium offense as it is today, period. So if you get caught or arrested with an illegal gun, your intent is to do damage to somebody else. There’s no other way that you can use an illegal gun. You can’t take it to a firearm range, you can’t use it for recreational purposes, your intent is to hurt somebody and it should be treated as such. So I appreciate the ACLU’s position. We agree on many things. This is one area that we don’t agree.
Cruz: Somebody could argue that an illegal gun or a gun, illegal or not, could be used for protection as well.
Fulop: If your goal is protection, then you don’t get an illegal gun, number one. And number two is you register it and go through the proper channels in order to make sure that it is legal. My point is that you have somebody on the street who’s a thug carrying an illegal gun, their intent is to harm somebody and it should be treated as a violent, not non-violent. It’s a loophole or a mistake in Trenton legislation with regards to bail reform.
Cruz: So what’s wrong with giving a judge that discretion?
Fulop: Well, I mean the judge airs today in the way bail reform is structured on allowing people to be released so that money isn’t the factor deciding if they stay or go, so they air on the side of letting them go and they classify gun possession as a medium type of offense. It’s just not a medium type of offense.
Cruz: You used an example of a guy named DaJour Riley who was killed. He had been arrested several times for gun possession and you said that it was because of this loophole that he was out on the street and that’s how he was killed. And then people suggested well what are you suggesting, that we should lock people up for their own safety?
Fulop: All right, so this is typical kind of politics and people kind of spinning what I said. I gave many different examples of situations where we arrested someone for gun possession and they were released immediately. We’ve had situations where we arrested somebody for a gun, they were released immediately, we arrested them again for a gun several weeks later, released again.
Cruz: But we don’t know that those people committed crimes, right?
Fulop: They’re carrying illegal guns and their intent, if they’re carrying an illegal gun, I would say is not to do anything helpful. So people point to the one instance where we arrested somebody with an illegal gun, he had a track record, an extensive history with regards to firearm and police activity. We arrested him for a gun, he was released immediately and whether it was retaliation or related to the first offense — it’s under investigation — but he was killed several weeks later. When you release somebody right away witnesses get terrorized, the community gets terrorized, often there’s retaliation. People can misconstrue what I said and say that I was saying that you lock people up for their own safety, but I think that’s really mischaracterizing the goal of what I was pushing for.
Cruz: I have about 30 seconds left. The Attorney General’s Office came out in support, sort of, of what you said but they added alluding police to the list of violent offenses. Would you support that?
Fulop: Look, alluding police, I need to understand a little more what that means. Sometimes people run and they’re scared and for a variety of reasons, even if they have small quantities of marijuana.
Cruz: Jersey City Mayor Steve Fulop, thanks very much for coming in.
Fulop: Thank you.