NYPD officials acknowledged a “troubling” racial gap in people they’re arresting for marijuana — but defended their enforcement efforts, saying they’re responding to residents complaining about people smoking pot.
Cops faced criticism from City Council members at a hearing Monday over stats showing that despite a large drop in marijuana busts, the overwhelming majority of those arrested — 86% — are black and Latino.
“Clearly that’s troubling, and it should be troubling to anyone, including me,” said Dermot Shea, the NYPD’s chief of crime control strategies.
There were about 17,500 marijuana possession arrests last year — a 40% drop since 2013, after Mayor de Blasio ordered most people caught with pot in their possession to get a summons instead of getting arrested. Cops continue to arrest people they find smoking marijuana in public.
“The racial disparities have not changed one bit, and arrests are still too common in communities of color,” said Councilman Donovan Richards, chair of the public safety committee. “If the administration is serious about changing this disparity, we’re not seeing it.”
Shea said cops are making arrests in areas where they’re getting a lot of 911 and 311 calls about public pot smoking — but the NYPD could not produce any data on complaints.
“Where the arrests are made, I believe, are where the complaints are,” Shea said.
“People are calling up and we feel very bad for them, because they say, ‘This is the fifth time I’ve called, this is the 10th time I’ve called, please NYPD do something,’” he added. “They’re bringing their kids to the park, and there’s people smoking marijuana.”
But pols said without any numbers to back up the claim, they don’t buy it.
“I refuse to believe that in New York City, a city of 8 and a half million, that the only individuals calling 911 or 311 on this issue are people in communities of color,” Richards (D-Queens) said. “You can walk around City Hall these days, and walk through the park and you will smell marijuana being burned.”
The top five neighborhoods for marijuana arrests are in East Harlem and the south Bronx, stats show.
Surveys have found that blacks and whites use marijuana at similar rates, with about a third of white and black 18 to 25 year olds saying they have used it in the last year.
“Enforcement throughout the city is wildly uneven,” said Councilman Rory Lancman, chair of the justice committee, adding the NYPD failed to produce any documentation to support its claim that arrests line up with complaints.
“I just cannot accept that this is the justification for this incredible disparity,” he said.
Lancman (D-Queens) suggested cops in white neighborhoods may be “a little more forgiving” when they see someone smoking on the street, which Shea denied.
“I have no evidence to suggest that officers in white communities are enforcing the law any differently than they are in neighborhoods of color,” he said. “I believe New York City police officers enforce the law impartially.”
He blamed the inability to produce data on complaints that contain the word marijuana “spelled 15 different ways,” or use other terms like weed, pot, or drugs.
Councilman Fernando Cabrera (D-Bronx) took a different view from other pols, saying cops should continue to enforce laws against public pot smoking.
“People in my community, when they call 311, 911, they want a response,” he said, adding residents were “disturbed” to see people smoking on the street.
“They don’t want to be smelling what’s going on,” he said. “The law is the law, and you’re called upon to enforce the law.”
But Councilman Antonio Reynoso (D-Brooklyn) said the whole debate would soon sound silly as more and more states legalize marijuana.
“In 10 years, we’re going to be laughing at this conversation,” he said.