Arrests for low levels of marijuana possession were up in 2016, despite City Hall’s insistence that it has focused on reducing the amount of arrests and prosecutions for the offense. According to statistics first compiled by Politico, the NYPD racked up 17,762 arrests in 2016, a ten percent rise over the previous year. Even more damning for City Hall is that despite marijuana arrests being down overall since Bill de Blasio took office at the beginning of 2014, a massive disparity in the policing of communities of color remains. Over 85 percent of those low level marijuana arrests were of people identified as either black or Hispanic, and just 10% of those arrested by the NYPD for marijuana possession were white.
While the overall arrest numbers are down, from a high of 50,000 as recently as 2011, the de Blasio administration seems unwilling to continue to drive down the arrest numbers, which bottomed out at just over 15,000 in 2015.
Early in his administration, the NYPD went along with de Blasio’s plan to issue a summons instead of arresting individuals for low-level possession, something that the late Brooklyn District Attorney Ken Thompson didn’t believe went far enough. Thompson later announced he’d no longer prosecute individuals for low-level marijuana possession, even if they’d just been given a summons instead of arrested. The number of arrests fell prodigiously, but remain high as de Blasio refuses to part with Broken Windows policing, which cracks down on any quality-of-life crime, no matter if a district attorney is still prosecuting it.
“The reduction in marijuana arrests and increase in marijuana summonses since Mayor de Blasio took office show he’s taken concrete steps to reduce unnecessary arrests and shift away from targeting low-level offenders,” City Hall spokesman Austin Finan told the Voice.
During a press conference going over crime statistics this morning, Mayor de Blasio told reporters that the NYPD’s aggressive stance on quality-of-life policing “is one of the reasons that New York City became the safest big city in America.”
“The community wants our officers to follow up on these things, because the community is calling them in,” the mayor explained.
“People want quality-of-life policing. They want it to be fair, they want everybody treated equally…Officers have discretion now. They can give a warning if that makes more sense. Sometimes that’s a summons and sometimes that’s an arrest. I think that’s about keeping us safe.”
Former NYPD commissioner Bill Bratton left the post this summer while vehemently defending the practice of Broken Windows policing that he helped invent and implement. Immediately on his departure, the mayor and his new commissioner Jimmy O’Neill began Bratton’s final revision to Broken Windows, known as “neighborhood policing,” which encourages NYPD officers to interact more with the community outside of 911 calls and making arrests. For this concession from the NYPD, participating officers got a raise.
Meanwhile, advocates are calling on the mayor to push for the decriminalization of low-level offenses that put the city’s immigrant population at immediate risk for deportation.
Today’s press conference was held to announce a 0.2 percent drop in crime from last year.
After the NYPD’s press secretary told reporters the press conference was over, Commissioner O’Neill grabbed the microphone and added, “As far as quality-of-life policing is concerned, you need to talk to [deputy inspector] Fausto about that. He’s a precinct commander, we’re all precinct commanders up here. If you didn’t do that, you wouldn’t be a precinct commander very long.”