NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) — Imagine, you go for a late-night stroll in the park, and you end up spending the rest of the night in a police station lockup.
Or, you ride your bike on the sidewalk, and you are handcuffed and arrested. Perhaps you take up two seats on the subway, and you end up receiving six months’ probation.
Do the punishments really fit the crimes? Or is it more a case of you paying the petty consequences?
Darren Jones, 50, told CBS 2′s Maurice Dubois he was heading home from work one day.
“I was approached by three plainclothes police officers,” he said.
Jones was held in police custody for 16 hours. His crime was walking between subway cars.
“I was totally shocked,” Jones said.
Seymour Hewitt said he had a similar experience.
“I’m 38 years old,” he said. “I’ve never been arrested, ever, in my life.”
But that all changed when Hewitt realized he was about to take the wrong train. So he re-entered the subway on the correct platform, but didn’t pay a second time. For that, he did 12 hours behind bars.
“I’m heartbroken,” Hewitt said.
“We were dancing,” Stern said. “That’s it.”
All the people who were arrested admit they did break the law, but no one expected to be locked up. Crimes like these typically result in a summons, not jail time.
“That wasn’t for me,” Jones said. “I didn’t belong there.”
“It’s disgusting,” Hewitt said. “You’re locked up. You’re an animal.”
Legal Aid Society attorney Steven Banks said jail time for these so-called quality of life crimes is on the rise.
“We see every day instances of over-policing where individuals are arrested, processed through the system during a 24-hour period, spend the night in jail, and then are released the next day for very minor things,” Banks said.
He said the punishment clearly does not hit the crime.
“Seems like they’re hitting an ant with a sledgehammer,” Banks said.
Take the case of Samantha Zucker, 22. Police arrested her for allegedly being in Riverside Park after closing – a violation that cost her 36 hours in jail.
“That’s a tremendous cost to the system and a tremendous cost to New Yorkers who now have to tell an employer they’ve been arrested, who might lose their housing because they have a criminal record, who now might get deported because although they are here lawfully, they’ve been arrested,” Banks said.
Added attorney Joel Schmidt, “It’s outrageous.”
Schmidt recently defended a 21-year-old construction worker, who was locked up for taking two seats on the subway at 1 a.m.
Schmidt got the case dismissed, and said petty arrests do nothing but clog the courts.
“It’s hard for me to say what motivates Police Department,” Schmidt said.
But Jon Shane, a professor of justice at John Jay College, had a different perspective.
“It’s not as crazy as everyone thinks,” he said.
Shane said it may seem random, but police have a good reason to make the arrests.
“Police are enforcing the law in an effort to keep all of the riders safe, because what happens is one dance creates onlookers, which creates a bigger crowd, which creates the prospect of somebody being bumped and knocked down,” he said.
The NYPD said the arrest strategy is a major factor in the city’s dramatic decline in crime. But at a recent news conference, Police Commissioner Ray Kelly admitted his officers don’t arrest for every misdemeanor.
“It depends on what the violation is,” he said.
Still, people who’ve been caught up in the system said police are casting too wide a net, catching everyday New Yorkers in the process.
“I’m sad. I’m violated. I’m exploited,” Hewitt said.
“I’m a productive member of society, and I wasn’t treated as such,” added Jones.
Most of the cases are dismissed, as long as the defendants stay out of trouble for six months.