crimes and misdemeanors

NYPD’s Number of Pot Arrests Is Somewhat Lower

NEW YORK, NY - MARCH 28: Commissioner of the New York City Police Department Ray Kelly attends the 2011 Skate for a Safe City hosted by the New York City Police Department at Wollman Rink, Central Park on March 28, 2011 in New York City. (Photo by Michael Stewart/WireImage) *** Local Caption *** Ray Kelly
Ray Kelly. Photo: Michael Stewart/2011 Michael Stewart

If Governor Cuomo succeeds in his new effort to decriminalize the possession of small amounts of marijuana, there should be a sharp drop off in the number of young black and Latino men arrested as part of the city’s controversial stop-and-frisk program. New NYPD arrest statistics suggest that even though the law hasn’t passed yet, weed-loving New Yorkers can relax slightly while carrying a bit of pot (as long as they aren’t brandishing a joint in the street). Since September, when Police Commissioner Ray Kelly sent a memo directing the NYPD to stop arresting low-level pot enthusiasts, the number of arrests for possession of marijuana in the fifth degree has decreased nearly 25 percent.

From October to May the NYPD made 27,492 of these arrests, which represents a 24.4 percent drop compared to the previous eight months. Per The Wall Street Journal:

From Jan. 1, 2011, to Aug. 31, there had been 36,370 small-amount marijuana arrests, putting the NYPD on target to top 54,000 for the year and shatter a record of 51,267 set in 2000 under former Mayor Rudy Giuliani. There were more than 50,000 such arrests in 2011, the second most ever.

While Mayor Bloomberg will likely cite the numbers as proof that the NYPD is following Kelly’s directive, the figures may be misleading. Queens College professor Harry Levine, who’s been studying the NYPD’s record on pot arrests for several years, says the statistics are unreliable since they compare two different eight-month periods of time. Apparently, there’s a season for getting busted for marijuana possession.

When Levine compared the number of low-level pot arrests made by the NYPD in the first quarter of 2012 and the first quarter of 2011, he found that arrests dropped by a much less impressive 12.6 percent. Though the city is no longer on track to top itself on marijuana arrests, following Kelly’s memo, the NYPD is still charging an average of about 113 people with minor pot possession every day.