Bogus Pot Arrests Rise In NYC - Commissioner Kelly's Memo Proves Ineffective and Unenforced
Stay up to date with the latest headlines via email.
Nearly half of New Yorkers picked up for small amounts of marijuana possession in recent months were not displaying the drug before they were stopped, the study shows, despite an order by New York police chief Ray Kelly that officers should not charge people in such circumstances.
The revelations will fuel criticisms of the NYPD's controversial "stop and frisk" policy, which opponents say is criminalising a generation of young people from ethnic minorities and leading to tensions between police and the public.
Scott Levy, an attorney at the Bronx Defenders, the legal and advocacy organization that led the survey, said: "This is clearly an illegal practice. And the fact that it hasn't stopped since Commissioner Kelly issued his memo, suggests there is a deep disconnect between what happens on the street and what the top brass in the NYPD are saying happens."
Under New York law, possession of 25g or less of marijuana is only a misdemeanor offense, a violation that brings a $100 fine. Only when the drugs are in public view are the police permitted to make an arrest for drug possession.
In September last year, Kelly issued an order to officers not to arrest people caught with small amounts of marijuana. But the number of those arrested increased after the order was made.
In all, about 50,000 people were arrested in 2011 for marijuana possession; some 30,000 of these came after police stops.
In August there were 2,486 arrests after police stops. In October – after the Kelly order – the NYPD arrested 2,661 people on the same charge. That number dipped slightly in November and December, but was still higher than the same months in previous years.
Until now, no one has been able to tell how many of those arrested may have occurred only after a police officer compelled a suspect to pull the drugs out of his or her pocket, which gave them cause for arrest.
To get more detailed data, the Bronx Defenders teamed up with attorneys from the law firm Cleary, Gottlieb, Steen and Hamilton to review police records and personal accounts from 517 people arrested for marijuana possession in the borough in the months before and after the Kelly order.
According to the survey, the percentage of illegal stop-and-frisks increased from 31% before the order to 44% after the order. Similarly, the percentage of manufactured misdemeanors increased from 33% to 44%.
One in three respondents said police had forced them to take the marijuana out of pockets or from under clothes and produce it into public view.
The NYPD did not respond to a request for comment. In the past, it has vigorously defended its policies, arguing that stop and frisks save lives.
But members of communities impacted by stop and frisks disagree, arguing that the policy has resulted in a form of institutionalized degradation that disproportionately impacts African American and Latino youth. They say the tactic leads to harassment and erodes trust between police and the public.
Darnell, who lives in the South Bronx who and requested his last name not be used, was stopped by the NYPD as he was crossing 170th and Valentine streets last October. He said two officers patted him down but stopped short of searching him in public. Instead, they took Darnell back to the precinct and asked him to remove his pants and underwear.