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by Peter Moskos

March 15, 2011

NYC Marijuana Arrests Cost City $75 mil

So reports the Daily News about a new report by the Drug Policy Alliance.

In response, Commissioner Kelly says if you don't like, call your state senator. Of course, that's a bit disingenuous because the law is already pretty clear: small-scale possession of marijuana in New York State is not an arrestable offense. The problem is how the NYPD enforces a violation they've been told to just write a ticket for. The law is pretty clear: it doesn't want an arrest for small-scale personal weed possession. But the NYPD gets around this law by "asking" people to empty their pockets (that's the legal way, at least). But... why?

I can answer that question, by the way: overtime, paperwork, compstat pressure, and the boss. Remember, in the police world, some arrests are better than others, but all arrests are good. Of course in the tax-paying world and even the crime-fighting world, all arrests are not necessarily good.

Kelly says the NYPD must be doing something right, because crime is still low. He's right about that.... But that doesn't mean it has anything to do with $75 million worth of marijuana arrests. One can make a stronger argument that marijuana arrests increased because crime went down. It became harder and harder to keep up those numbers for Compstat and meet certain "productivity goals."


Anonymous said...

Same as squeezing an orange juice. Why doesn't NYPD just change the basic parameters of CompStat to reflect the current decline in crime? Why not make a productivity goal of knowing business owners on your patrol? I mean....wasn't the whole point of reducing crime and broken window theory to reach a level where police can oh, I don't know, work with the locals?

PCM said...

Why not make a productivity goal of knowing business owners on your patrol? That's the exact question I keep asking. I've never gotten a good answer. Anybody...?

Jeff N said...

If I am stopped by, talking to, or being questioned by police and they 'ask' me to empty my pockets, what is going to happen if I say no?

I have a feeling I know the answer, and it won't be pleasant for me, even if I they find nothing.

MisguidedPotential said...

I don't understand why they put rookies fresh out of the academy into the most crime ridden areas, the impact zones. You're putting relatively inexperienced officers who are at first eager to impress superiors (by making as many arrests as they can) in a population that has both the most offenders and potential/actual victims. It seems to be a disservice to all parties.

Crime-plagued communities don't need police locking up people who have a bag of weed in their pocket, they need police who make people feel safe and secure to walk to and from work, or to the store, and someone with power to be able to talk to concerning a crime that has been committed already or a growing area problem. When you have seasoned officers riding in their patrol cars, I'm not sure how this can be done?

PCM said...

Fair question. But let me mention this: high-crime areas need cops willing to work. You don't want a bunch of older lazy humps doing nothing but the bare minimum. Young cops have more energy, for good and bad. Officers get burnt out in high-crime areas. So police use the young officers for a few years while they can.

And is it fair to more experienced officers to force them to work in less desirable places? Maybe veteran officers deserve a quieter precinct, to reward them for working so hard for years.

Plus, you do learn faster in these areas. It seems silly to have an officer working in an area where you don't learn as much. Yes,working with good experienced officers helps (a lot). But at some point you have to take off the training wheels. I didn't feel like I really knew what I was doing till *I* was the senior officer, which happened very quickly.

But all this kind of dances around your basic question. And I do think there could be a better way.

Anonymous said...

As a guy who has actually done this type of work in NYC I can say the claim that most of these arrests come from the police asking people to empty their pockets (thus revealling marijuana "open to public view") is false. The vast , vast majority of these arrests come as a result of people smoking marijuana in public places. We all know this creates a perception of disorder leading to more crime.


PCM said...

Thanks for chiming in, Ed.

I'm all for enforcing public violations of drug laws. Broken Windows and disorder and all that.

But are the vast majority of 50,000 marijuana arrests really for people smoking joints in public? What streets and parks are these? I just don't see it (though I'm not hanging out in neighborhoods where these arrests are made). Nor do I hear that from those I know who do make such arrests nor from those who have been arrested for possession in public view.

Anonymous said...

I have no doubt you're getting a straight story from those arrested for possession in public view:

"I had it in my pocket and the cops tricked me into taking it out." What?

What are the cops telling you?

"We see a kid who we think may have weed in his pockets and we trick him into taking it out and then pounce on him." Not likely.

Between sales in public and smoking in public I am quite sure these numbers are sustainable. I have no doubt people have been tricked into presenting their marijuana "open to public view" but this is definitely the rare, rare exception put forth by people with an agenda.
But I really am interested in what cops are saying they do to make these arrests.
If anyone is concerned, I don't have a strong desire to lock up marijuana users, but doing something illegal where it is obvious to everyone around you does contribute to a feeling of disorder and an unsafe neighorhood.

PCM said...

They see a suspicious kid and stop him for a 250. Out of those half-million (documented) stops, many become frisks. Cops ask if they have anything on them they should know about it (like needles). Kids empty their pockets to comply or because they think they have no choice. I don't know if you want to consider that a "trick" or not. The majority of times, the weed wasn't lit (that would actually be a good stat to know).

I think some of these arrests (I wouldn't hazard a guess as to how many of them) happen from illegal searches (once pockets are gone into or people are told to empty their pockets). Drugs are found.

Let me ask you this: Why have marijuana arrests increased in recent years? You'll never convince me that more people are walking down the street smoking a joint/blunt now than were 10 years ago.

And here's a stat that doesn't tell a full story, but certainly says something:

Police arrested 46,400 for marijuana possession in 2009. They issued 8,600 tickets for the same. It strains credibility to imagine that the good men and women of the NYPD are five times as likely to find marijuana in "public view" as they to find it during a routine frisk or search. But the former gets you a collar and the latter just a C-summons and paperwork.

PCM said...

And let me also add that when I was cop, I never once saw somebody walking down the street minding their business smoking a joint who wasn't also doing else more illegal (like dealing drugs). Not once. Zero times.

So besides what other NYPD tell me about them and three other cops "asking" somebody to empty their pockets, I just wonder where these 50,000 marijuana smokers are. I live here (though mind you not in the neighborhoods these arrest are happening in). In 1990, could you find 50,000 people walking down the streets smoking a joint? Sure. But in 2010? I don't see it.

Anonymous said...

Peter babe,

Is that you talking about "harder and harder to keep productivity goals?"

Does that mean that a little itty bitty part of you thinks that that cop in the 81 precinct maybe had something right?

love ya JCH

PCM said...

He's absolutely right that officers feel pressure to meet quotas...

But we all already know that!

He's wrong about almost everything he's done and claimed.

And nothing in all those tapes I heard reveals anything new or damning.