New Yorkers Don’t Know Their Rights When It Comes to NYPD’s Illegal Marijuana Searches


In a follow-up to yesterday’s investigation by WNYC into the often illegal, and more often minority-targeting, rash of arrests for misdemeanor marijuana possession, part two today focuses on New York City citizens’ ignorance. As it turns out, we do have rights — even as brown or black men — but out of the 50,000 arrests for weed possession last year, almost no one challenged the legality of the manner they were searched. And when the cases are thrown out — as many as 10 to 15 times everyday in the Bronx alone — it’s usually because cops accidentally admitted they violated the rights of the person they searched.

Marijuana possession is a crime in New York, as opposed to a violation, if the drugs are in “public view,” although more than a dozen men in WNYC’s report claim their substances were found only when police pulled it out of concealment during a “stop and frisk” — an NYPD action ostensibly about finding illegal firearms.

A prosecutor at the Bronx District Attorney’s Office says the cases that are thrown out are “because the police paperwork states the marijuana was actually not in public view. These cases she chalks up to honest mistakes.” But if a cop lies, then it’s up to the arrested to know their rights and pursue “a further investigation.”

Last year, 1,142 people told the Civilian Complaint Review Board (CCRB) they were improperly searched during a stop-and-frisk. The CCRB is an independent agency that oversees police misconduct. The police department disciplined three percent of the officers involved in those 1,142 cases. According to the CCRB, the punishment most of those officers got was “instructions” on how to perform a proper search. The most severe discipline – doled out to eight officers – was docked vacation days.

As for the huge number of arrests of the arrests, police sources told WNYC that “supervisors like to see arrests – it’s a sign of productivity.” These quota systems — unofficial, quantified or not — as well as the stop and frisk policy, have been examined in depth by the Village Voice, especially in Bed-Stuy’s 81st precinct, where the questionable practices have been well documented.

Read more from the second part of the WNYC report here, and additional Voice coverage in our NYPD Tapes series here, here and here.

This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on April 27, 2011

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