ALBANY, N.Y. (NEWS10) — Police statistics indicate that violent crime rose during COVID, and researchers across the country have worked with officials to identify contributing factors. In New York, politicians have magnified the issue during the midterm election season.

Law enforcement numbers focus mainly on arrest data, with police press releases reliably emphasizing felony charges. The New York State Division of Criminal Justice Services offers data online that lets us examine arrest rates and convictions on a county-by-county basis. Their figures also are presented in terms of New York City and Upstate. Take a look at the figures for the Capital Region below:

This table combines data from Albany, Columbia, Dutchess, Fulton, Greene, Herkimer, Montgomery, Rensselaer, Saratoga, Schenectady, Schoharie, Ulster, Warren, and Washington Counties from 2017 to 2021. Right off the top, you can spot a decrease in both raw arrests and conviction numbers in 2020 and 2021 compared to the previous three years.

20172018201920202021
Felony charge10,51610,5069,7345,5737,585
Misdemeanor charge23,48623,24321,74811,66014,380
Total convictions24,99824,84423,13211,60814,876

In the greater Capital Region, out of 7,585 felony arrests in 2021, there were 1,156 dismissed or acquitted, representing just over 15%. Another 10% were covered by another case—meaning that a plea or determination in one case also satisfied or “covered” other counts or charges.

2021
Total arrests7,585
District attorney declined to prosecute1
Dismissed—not adjourned in contemplation of dismissal467
Dismissed—adjourned in contemplation of dismissal418
Diverted and dismissed0
Acquitted10
Other favorable260

This means that just over 74%—5,621 arrests—resulted in convictions. Out of that 74%, we see close to half settled as misdemeanors, and nearly a quarter found guilty of a non-criminal infraction with all felony charges dismissed. Less than a third—30.9%—of the convictions were ultimately judged as felonies. While the total of felony arrests reported by police in 2021 was 7,585, only 1,737 of those—roughly 23%—resulted in felony convictions.

Felony arrest suspect convicted of:Total% of convictions% of arrests
Felony1,73730.9%22.9%
Misdemeanor2,55845.5%33.7%
Non-criminal infraction1,32623.6%17.5%

In other words, 77% of all felony arrests do not yield felony convictions. In the end, 69% of convictions for cases that began with felony charges are ruled as misdemeanors or less. And out of all 5,621 convictions of individuals arrested in the Capital Region on felony charges in 2021, most were only sentenced to pay a fine or probation. By the numbers, 3,693—65.7%—were tried and sentenced without being incarcerated at all.

Felony arrest suspect sentenced to:Total% of convictions% of arrests
Prison94416.8%12.5%
Jail69712.4%9.2%
Time served3987.1%5.3%
Jail and probation2875.1%3.8%
Probation1,09819.5%14.5%
Fine1,32923.6%17.5%
Conditional discharge77513.8%10.2%
Other/unknown931.7%1.2%

A charge is not a conviction, and suspects are only very rarely convicted on the top charge filed by prosecutors. These numbers—aggregated from police numbers—show that not only have felony arrests and convictions decreased, but that charges are much more likely to be dismissed or replaced at trial or in a plea deal.

Indeed, “Many researchers are dubious about a link between an increase in incarceration and a drop in crime rates”—writes Jason Stanley in the 2018 book “How Fascism Works: The Politics of Us and Them.” He said, “Studies indicate that incarceration itself contributes substantively to an increase in crime.”

Even so, across New York, law enforcement agencies have sounded the alarm—not only about crime but about how to legislate surrounding issues like cashless bail or police funding. The Capital Region is no exception. Most recently, the Watervliet police chief advocated changing bail reform after a suspected drug offender was arrested multiple times in a short time frame. The Albany County District Attorney’s Office also made a case against red flag laws and raise the age legislation.

“State leaders must […] return to the Capitol to address counter-productive criminal justice reforms if they want to meaningfully address inner city gun violence.”

Office of David Soares
Albany County District Attorney

Yet according to original research by former public defender Scott Hechinger, “86% of all felony charges in New York were ultimately dismissed” in 2021—with a large share representing New York City. That’s because law enforcement is known to “‘upcharge’ to gain bargaining leverage” at trial, said Hechinger, who’s behind the social justice group Zealous.

Bail reform targets misdemeanors and nonviolent felonies, giving judges discretion to jail those charged with violent crimes as a matter of public safety. Legislators behind the measures, human rights groups, and social justice advocates argue that the outdated cash bail system has devastated communities. They identify a racist component to the prison system, tracing a line from punitive policies for people who cannot afford bail to the racial lines between economic classes.

“Relying on bail and jail to meet people’s underlying needs is counterproductive and short-sighted,” said Katie Schaffer, the Director of Organizing and Advocacy at the Center for Community Alternatives. “Pretrial detention harms people, families, and communities by creating instability. It causes people to lose their jobs, and their homes, all while they are presumed innocent. To deliver safety more effectively, communities must connect people to programs that break cycles of harm.”