Sheila Beasley was struggling to clean up after her Rottweiler on a Bronx sidewalk on a December day in 2008 when she briefly put his leash down — a move spotted by a nearby plainclothes police officer who promptly wrote her a summons for having an unleashed dog.
Beasley, a 50-year-old mother of two, said she forgot about the ticket and missed a court date to resolve it. That decision triggered a warrant for her arrest, and nearly three years later, police showed up at her door and hauled her off to jail, where she stayed for four days.
“I feel like they abducted me from my house,” Beasley says. “I would never even make up in my wildest dreams and think I would have to go through a system like that for something so insignificant.”
New York’s court system has about 1.2 million open warrants like Beasley’s, affecting people who run the risk of arrest for failing to resolve sometimes decades-old infractions for low-level offenses such as drinking in public or disorderly conduct. And while city officials haven’t yet presented a formal proposal on how to resolve the backlog, Police Commissioner William Bratton has floated a form of amnesty.
“Warrants never go away. There’s no expiration date,” Bratton said in an interview. “It would be great to get rid of a lot of that backlog. It’s not to our benefit from a policing standpoint to have all those warrants floating around out there.”
How that might happen is unclear, and officials are still talking about the possibilities, but Bratton said he envisions a program in which people with outstanding warrants would receive a notification informing them that their risk of arrest on these matters could disappear if they agree to come forward.
“Will it be feasible? I don’t know,” he said. “But I’m open to discussing it.”
Last year, almost 40 percent of the hundreds of thousands of people slapped with tickets for low-level violations forgot, skipped or otherwise failed to show up to court to resolve the summonses.
A reasonable fix for Beasley would have been something other than detention. Her case was ultimately dismissed after a 10-second court appearance.
“They came banging on my door like they were after some hardened criminal,” Beasley said. “They should have a better system.”