THE BRONX - The judicial diversion program, which offers an alternative to prison time for convicted criminals, is coming under fire in the wake of an NYPD officer's fatal shooting.

Tyrone Howard, the man accused of shooting Officer Randolph Holder in the head earlier this week, was placed into the diversion system by a judge last year.

Police say Howard had a rap sheet that included 18 prior arrests. Commissioner Bill Bratton says he should have been put in prison.

"His whole life has been an escalation of crime and criminal activity," Bratton says of Howard.

The judge ordered Howard into the diversion program after an arrest for allegedly selling crack-cocaine last year.

Criminal defense attorney Renee Hill says Howard appeared to fit the criteria for a diversion program at the time.

"It's given to offenders who do not have a prior violent history," Hill says.

Of Howard's 18 prior arrests, police say all of them were drug-related except for a shooting arrest in 2009 in which the charges were dropped.

Experts say that because he was not prosecuted in connection with the shooting charge, it could not be held against him when considering his eligibility for diversion.

Diversion offers addiction treatment and counseling for offenders. It also includes random drug tests.

It's currently only up to a judge to decide who goes into such programs, but Bratton says the NYPD should have input as well. Both the commissioner and Mayor Bill de Blasio have called for increased scrutiny of the practice.