New York: New Report Shows NYPD Spent 1 Million Hours Making Marijuana Arrests
By Steve Elliott
New Report: “One Million Police Hours: Making 440,000 Marijuana Possession Arrests in New York City, 2002-2012”
NYC Has Dubious Distinction of “Marijuana Arrest Capital of the World”; Majority of Those Arrested Are Black and Latino Youth
Report Released As State Black, Puerto Rican, Hispanic and Asian Legislative Caucus Makes Final Push to Pass Marijuana Reform Proposal This Week
A new report released on Tuesday documents the astonishing number of hours the New York Police Department has spent arresting and processing hundreds of thousands of people for low-level misdemeanor marijuana possession arrests during Mayor Bloomberg’s tenure. The report finds that NYPD used approximately one million hours of police officer time to make 440,000 marijuana possession arrests over 11 years.
These, of course, are hours that police officers might have otherwise have spent investigating and solving serious crimes.
The report was prepared by Dr. Harry Levine, Professor of Sociology at Queens College and recognized expert on marijuana possession arrests, at the request of members of the New York City Council and the New York State Legislature.
Additionally, the report estimates that the people arrested by NYPD for marijuana possession have spent 5,000,000 hours in police custody over the last decade. The report includes a compendium of quotes from academics, journalists, law enforcement professionals and elected officials attesting to the wastefulness, consequences and racial disparities inherent in these arrests.
"We cannot afford to continue arresting tens of thousands of youth every year for low-level marijuana possession,” said Alfredo Carrasquillo, civil rights organizer with VOCAL-NY. “We can't afford it in terms of the negative effect it has on the future prospects of our youth and we can't afford in terms of police hours.
"It's shocking that the same mayor who has been taking money away from youth programs and cutting other social services, is wasting tens of millions of dollars locking youth up through the NYPD's marijuana arrests crusade," Carrasquillo said. "We need legislative action to fix this madness."
Numerous other reports have exposed the array of problems associated with marijuana arrests in New York:
• New York City has made more marijuana possession arrests under Mayor Michael Bloomberg than under mayors Koch, Dinkins and Giuliani combined.
• Nearly 70 percent of those arrested for marijuana are younger than 30 years old, and more than 50 percent are under 21 years old. These young people receive a permanent criminal arrest record which can be easily found on the internet by employers, banks, schools, landlords, and others.
• Even though young whites use marijuana at higher rates, more than 85 percent of the people arrested and jailed for marijuana possession are black and Latino.
These arrests are costing New Yorkers more than $75 million per year.
“This report shows that people arrested for marijuana possession spend an average of 12-18 hours, just in police custody, and the vast majority of those arrested are young Black and Latino men from seven to 10 neighborhoods in NYC,” said Chino Hardin, field coordinator and trainer with the Center for NuLeadership on Urban Solutions. “This is not just a crisis, but a frontline civil rights issue facing urban communities of color in the 21st century.
"We are calling on Governor Cuomo to do the right thing, and exercise the moral and political will to address this injustice,” Hardin said.
Mayor Bloomberg recently announced administrative changes to how NYPD will process marijuana arrests, but this change does not change the law itself and will not stop the arrests, so advocates continue to call upon Albany to act.
The release of One Million Police Hours takes place as Governor Cuomo and leaders from the Senate and Assembly are in negotiations about the governor’s proposal to fix the state’s marijuana decriminalization law. Although the state decriminalized possession of less than one ounce of marijuana in 1977, it authorized the police to charge a person with a crime if the marijuana was “in public view.”
As has been well-documented in both studies and media reports, police in New York, and particularly in NYC, have used this loophole to charge a crime when the marijuana is in public view as a result of a police search or a demand that the contents of someone’s pockets, backpacks, etc., be revealed.
“For years, New Yorkers from across the state have organized and marched and rallied, demanding an end to these outrageous arrests,” said gabriel sayegh, New York State Director of the Drug Policy Alliance (DPA). “And now we learn that the police have squandered one million hours to make racially biased, costly, and unlawful marijuana possession arrests. This is scandalous.
"I’m sure we can all think of more effective things for the police to spend their time on -- imagine if NYPD committed one million hours to working with communities to stop gun violence or to pursue unsolved serious crimes," sayegh said. "We stand with the Caucus and other leaders in Albany – both Democrats and Republicans – in demanding reform. The hour of change is upon us, and reform is long, long overdue.”
(Photo: The L Magazine)