PROP: Increase in NYPD Pot Arrests for 2016

By Criminal Defense Jeremy Saland, barred in New York. Jeremy served seven years as an ADA in Manhattan and five years as a Municipal Prosecutor in Westchester County. He has experience handling a wide range of criminal charges including cases involving drug possession.

According to a new report issued by Police Reform Organizing Project (PROP), arrests for low-level marijuana possession and summonses increased in 2016, despite the fact that pot is decriminalized in New York.

The data collected by PROP reveal that there were 38,848 arrests and summonses last year, a 13 percent increase over 2015 when 34,427 people were cited or charged.

PROP is a non-profit organization whose mission, according to its website, is “Creating awareness about the current wasteful, unequal, and racially-biased police activity in New York City and throughout the country.”

The police watchdog group says that despite the NYPD’s claim that they would be backing down on pot possession arrests, arrests have instead increased.

Over the summer, PROP obtained arrest and summon figures and found that the number of arrests had increased by 30 percent in the first half of 2016 compared to the prior year. In the first six months of 2016, police arrested 9,331 people for marijuana possession, almost 3,000 more than in the first six months of 2015.

Even more disturbing to the organization was who the target of those arrests appear to have focused on. According to Robert Gangi, the director of PROP, despite the fact that studies have shown that whites use and sell marijuana the same, if not more than blacks and Latinos, more than 90 percent of the arrests took place in neighborhoods of color.

These numbers contradicted the police commissioner’s claim that police were not targeting communities, but were instead targeting behaviors.

Two years ago, NYC Police Commissioner William Bratton said people who were found to be in possession of less than 25 grams of marijuana would not be arrested. Bratton stressed that instead of being charged with a crime, there would be a non-criminal violation issued via a summons. People who were found to be smoking marijuana in public, however, would still be arrested. 

In August, when Gangi first complained about the increase in arrests, the NYPD claimed that arrests were down by 40 percent and that Gangi’s claims were not based on facts – despite the increase shown in arrest numbers released by City Hall. The NYPD also dismissed Gangi’s assertions that police were only targeting minority neighborhoods. But Gangi maintained that the PROP’s analysis is based entirely on NYPD arrest information.

The new report should also cause concern, says Gangi, in light of the Trump administration’s promise to begin aggressively enforcing federal drug laws for marijuana.

Although marijuana is still classified as a Class 1 drug under federal law, past administrations have pretty much left enforcement up to individual states. But Trump and his new Attorney General have issued statements promising to go after people who use marijuana.

Another concern Gangi pointed out is that illegal immigrants could now be at greater risk of being deported if they receive a marijuana summons from the NYPD. It is these minor infractions that have been part of the massive illegal immigrant roundups taking place by ICE under the direction of the White House.

These reports are not only discerning that the number of marijuana arrests has increased, but it is truly alarming at the disproportionate amount of arrests taking place in communities of color.

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