New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio's (D.) Office of Criminal Justice has launched a taxpayer-funded effort to make the city's court system more friendly to accused criminals.
Under the $800,000 initiative, low-level defendants in Manhattan are given an 144-question survey to rate the courtesy of judges, prosecutors, and the temperature of the courtroom, and in return they receive a $15 Dunkin' Donuts gift card, the New York Post reported Sunday.
Law enforcement officials are not pleased with the program.
"Once again, the mayor wants to appease the criminals at taxpayers' expense," said a New York Police Department source who saw a defendant receive his gift card. "Next thing they'll be giving out Macy's cards so these perps could do their holiday shopping."
One high-ranking NYPD official called the effort "crazy," noting that appearing in court "isn't supposed to be fun."
"You want these people not to want this to happen again," the police officer told the Post. "It's not supposed to be a positive experience to get locked up or get a summons."
Sergeants union president Ed Mullins castigated the questionnaire, which is administered by the Center for Court Innovation.
"There's a long-standing statement that crime doesn't pay. We've now proved it does," Mullins said. "It now pays for a $15 Dunkin' Donuts card. Maybe we can give them confiscated firearms, too."
"Where is this coming from? We're all singing Kumbaya together?" he continued. "Maybe it's time we process criminals over tea and biscuits."
De Blasio's survey comes amid his push for more non-jail sentences in an effort to close Rikers Island prison, as well as his efforts to reduce violence at Rikers by rewarding well-behaving inmates with pizza parties.
Defendants who took the survey told the Post they did not mind taking the extra time considering they were being rewarded for doing so.
"I spoke and shared my honest opinions and was awarded a gift card, which was great," said Keith Ware, 34, a personal trainer charged with disorderly conduct.
"One of the questions was something about, do you feel like the judges and everyone in there did everything they had to do? I feel like, some days, but not all days," Ware added.
Juan Cruz, who is fighting what he calls a "bullcrap misdemeanor charge," supported the initiative after being in court "too many times."
"I told them I'd been here too many times to not understand the process," Cruz said. "But hey, got me a doughnut and cup of coffee when I get out of here."
Rodney Jones, 62, who said he was busted for carrying an imitation cap gun, saw the gift cards as a good use of public money.
"Because some people come here and don't have money to eat lunch," Jones said.
Not all defendants enjoyed de Blasio's use of public money, however.
Ebony Drake, 34, took the survey after winning a dismissal of an assault case and said, "Some of the questions were real silly."
"A lot of people are going to stop for the gift card, and they're going to tell you anything to get the gift card," Drake told the Post. "I live in [public] housing, so I could say that money could go to a thousand other things."
The questionnaire is part of a program that began in August.
The first phase of the program included the installation of signs on benches in a Manhattan courtroom explaining the justice system. The final stage is expected to include courtesy-training sessions for judges, clerks, and court officers.
Several court officers criticized the survey and the idea that they need to be more courteous than they already are.
"It isn't my job to be nice or make friends," one court official said. "It's my job to make the courthouse run smoothly."
Dennis Quirk, president of the Court Officers Association, voiced his own displeasure with the program.
"We don't need any training, judges don't need any training. We all know how to do our jobs, and we already treat people with courtesy," Quirk said. "Next, City Hall is going to want us to hand out ice cream cones and candy bars. Many of these people committed crimes. How much more do we want to coddle them?"
The Mayor's Office of Criminal Justice defended the gift cards as "compensation," saying they are in exchange for participants' time and a "minuscule" cost of the overall budget.
"Small physical changes can [make] a significant impact on behavior," Criminal Justice Director Elizabeth Glazer said in a written statement to the Post. "If the design of our courts can enhance respect for the law, it will potentially reduce future contact with the justice system, improving our city for everyone."
"That is what we are aiming to do now as well as working with experts to assess the effectiveness of these changes," Glazer added.