New NYPD Policy Could Prevent Tens of Thousands of Arrests Each Year

In response to mounting pressure, NYPD Commissioner Ray Kelly told police officers on September 19th to follow the law and stop making costly and racially biased marijuana arrests, now the number one arrest in New York City. This could translate into tens of thousands of fewer arrests among Black and Latino youth each year.

We joined elected officials and advocates in front of One Police Plaza on September 28th to applaud Commissioner Kelly’s (belated) decision, while calling for more comprehensive reforms in NYPD practices.

Assembly Member Hakeem Jeffries and Council Members Melissa Mark-Viverito, Jumaane Williams and Ydanis Rodriguez joined Drug Policy Alliance, the Institute for Juvenile Justice and Alternatives (IJJRA), VOCAL-NY and other advocates at the press conference.

We called for passage of statewide legislation to end these illegal arrests statewide and help lock in the NYPD’s new policy. VOCAL-NY is also calling on Mayor Bloomberg and Commissioner Kelly to put an end to race-based stop and frisks, along with illegal searches, which drove these arrests, along with record sealing for people who have been wrongfully arrested in the past and may now face barriers to employment, housing and other opportunities as a result.

Media coverage included:

NY1: Following NYPD’s Change On Marijuana Arrests, Advocates Want Police To Avoid Frisks (with VIDEO)

“It is very good that they are making sure people do not get arrested for marijuana, and that’s definitely a step in the right direction. But we also need to address the cause of why people were getting arrested for marijuana in the first place, which is stop and frisk.” – VOCAL-NY community organizer Alfredo Carrasquillo.

VOA: New York Has New Marijuana Arrest Policy

WNYC: State Lawmakers Congratulate Police (with PHOTOS)

Background from the coalition press release:

In 2010, over 54,000 people – mostly black or Latino – were arrested for possessing small amounts of marijuana in New York State. Over 50,000 of those arrests occurred in New York City, making it the most frequent arrest citywide. On Monday, September 19th, responding to mounting public pressure from elected officials and advocates, NYPD Police Commissioner Ray Kelly issued an operations order that clarified existing marijuana possession laws, instructing officers not to arrest people for marijuana in public view when complying with an officer’s demand to “empty their pockets”. This change could lead to the reduction of tens of thousands of arrests in New York City.

Commissioner Kelly’s operations order can be made permanent, and apply to all of New York State, by passing A.7620 (Jeffries) and S.5187 (Grisanti, R-Buffalo). This legislation would standardize penalties for marijuana possession offences, protect New Yorkers from illegal searches, save taxpayer dollars, and bring down the disproportionately high number of arrests among black and Latino men for marijuana-related crimes by eliminating the misdemeanor charge.

Marijuana has been decriminalized since 1977, making possession of 25 grams or less of marijuana a violation, punishable by a $100 fine, not arrest and jail. However, possessing or burning marijuana in public view is a criminal offense punishable by arrest and jail.

Since 1996, the New York City Police Department has made over 535,000 arrests for possession of small amounts of marijuana. Although the “public view” provision was meant to criminalize public display and smoking of marijuana, most of these arrests were not for that offense, but instead the result of complying with an officer’s demand to disclose contraband or from a police search and being improperly charged for “marijuana in public view” instead of the non-criminal violation offense. Although marijuana use is higher among whites, 86% of those arrested for marijuana possession were young Black and Latino youth.


Blog, Civil Rights, Drug Policy, Media Coverage, Prison & Parole

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