ALBANY — City Police Benevolent Association President Patrick Lynch Monday called on state lawmakers to fix what he said was a broken parole system that this year has begun springing cop killers like Herman Bell.
Lynch made the comments at a state Senate Republican committee hearing looking into the Parole Board operations as well as Gov. Cuomo’s widespread conditional pardons issued to thousands of parolees so they can vote, which Lynch also opposes.
The union chief ripped the Parole Board, which was mostly appointed by Cuomo, for not only releasing Bell, a former Black Liberation Army member who served about 40 years for the killing of two cops and had been denied parole seven previous times, but two others who killed police officers and one who murdered a Bronx assistant district attorney.
“These outrageous parole decisions have made it abundantly clear that the parole system is broken and the current parole guidelines are fundamentally flawed,” he said. “Even with revisions to the guidelines, they will still require a board that will properly adhere to them as is statutorily required and demanded by the public.”
Currently, he said, there are 59 prisoners convicted of murdering New York City police officers appearing regularly before the Parole Board.
He testified that the responsibility for fixing the situation rests with Cuomo and the Legislature.
He urged the lawmakers to repeal a 2011 amendment to the law that requires the Parole Board to consider whether someone poses a risk to the community if they are released and instead return to making such consideration optional.
Rather than focus heavily on the chance of recidivism, the Legislature, Lynch said, should require the Parole Board to give greater weight to the severity of the crime that was committed and the message a person’s release would send to the community.
“Bell’s release sent a clear message to New Yorkers: there is no crime too vicious and no criminal too depraved to earn a favorable hearing and release from the current Parole Board,” Lynch said.
The Legislature should also grant crime victims, their families or representatives the ability to appeal a Parole Board decision while the Senate needs to engage in “the most thorough vetting process possible” when deciding whether to confirm one of the governor’s appointments to the panel.
“Senators, as I know you all appreciate, there is simply no time to waste in your efforts to fix our broken parole system and restore the proper functioning of the Parole Board,” Lynch concluded.
Without specifically mentioning Cuomo, Sen. Fred Akshar (R-Binghamton) said he believes that politics plays a big role in why the Parole Board is functioning the way it is. Lynch agreed.
Among those testifying Monday was former Parole Board member James Ferguson, who outlined his concerns about the system, and an upstate couple whose 17-year-old son was killed by a drunk driver that not only set up his portrait on the table whle speaking to lawmakers but also carried his ashes.
Though several Cuomo administration officials were asked to attend the hearing, none showed up. They did, however, provide written testimony.
"Let’s be very clear: These hearings are nothing more than an election-year stunt by the Senate Republicans, and we're not going to be their props,” said Cuomo spokesman Tyrone Stevens.
A second and final hearing on the subject is scheduled Tuesday on Long Island.
Senate Crimes and Corrections Committee Chairman Patrick Gallivan (R-Erie County) said he expects the hearings will yield a report and recommendations for changes to the parole system and the governor’s executive order granting widespread conditional pardons to thousands of parolees so they can vote.
“It is my contention, and I feel strongly about this, that the governor usurped the power of the Legislature; that the (state) Constitution was not intended to deal in a blanket fashion with tens of thousands of individuals,” Gallivan said.
State Senate Democrats boycotted the hearing.
Before it began, a group of advocates called for more releases and voting rights for people on parole. “New York State Senate Republican leaders need to stop playing political football with the lives of currently and formerly incarcerated people,” said Jose Hamza Saldana, a community organizer with the Release Aging People in Prison campaign.
The Rev. Al Sharpton also spoke out in favor of granting parolees the right to vote.