Critiques Persist of Police Marijuana Arrests

This week, a question: How many marijuana arrests are too many?

Under nearly a decade of governance by Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg, police officers in New York City have taken into custody far greater numbers of people on low-level marijuana charges than in the past.

Those arrest numbers grew in tandem with another expanding practice: Officers stopping people on city streets to question and sometimes frisk them. Civil rights advocates say that it is minorities, and men, who are disproportionately subject to the streets stops in New York.

In a September memo, Police Commissioner Raymond W. Kelly directed his commanders not to arrest people caught with small amounts of marijuana – 25 grams or less – unless the suspects do something to put the drugs in plain public view. The memo was a reminder, not a policy shift, the police said.

New York law says that possession of small amounts of marijuana is a violation, subject to a $100 fine. It rises to a misdemeanor, punishable by a sentence of up to three months in jail, when someone has any amount of marijuana in public view.

Last week, the Drug Policy Alliance, an advocacy group critical of the police marijuana-arrest policies, cited citywide figures showing that low-level marijuana arrests had fallen 13 percent since Mr. Kelly’s memo was issued, compared with the same period last year.

It was a decline, to be sure, but “a disappointing drop,” considering the scale of the department’s practice, the alliance said.

“Regardless of what the numbers show, the impact is still tremendously felt by the communities that are illegally and disproportionately arrested for something that has been decriminalized for over 30 years,” said Chino Hardin of the Institute for Juvenile Justice Reform and Alternatives, which has campaigned with the Drug Policy Alliance against the arrest policy. “The crusade continues regardless of the 13 percent drop. When we see the numbers decrease by 80 percent, then we will know that the N.Y.P.D. is meaningfully following and upholding the law.”

Marijuana was in the news this week when Officer Peter J. Figoski was killed after a five people targeted for robbery the Brooklyn apartment of a man they – and the police – saw as a marijuana seller.

Though no marijuana was found in the apartment, Mr. Kelly was asked at a news conference whether the fatal shooting underscored the notion that marijuana is sometimes linked to violent crime.

“We know that marijuana, the sale of marijuana, generates an awful lot of violence; no question about it,” he said. “It is a big business. It can involve a lot of money and it also involves a lot of violence. It has to do with turf issues and money, obviously. So, for us, it creates major challenges.”

Feet Did Not Fail Him

Within the grief-stricken 75th Precinct, where Officer Figoski, 47, worked his entire 22-year career, many officers were relieved that he had Officer Glenn Estrada as his partner.

Officer Estrada is a runner, they said. The hobby served him well.

As Officer Figoski fell, fatally wounded, Officer Estrada heard the shot and saw the suspect, Lamont Pride, take off running, the police said. Officer Estrada, who had been struggling with another suspect, Kevin Santos, immediately chased Mr. Pride.

Officers in the 75th Precinct and Mr. Kelly have spoken about how Officer Estrada must have been fatigued from his own struggle but never lost sight of Mr. Pride, and kept running. He chased the armed man for several blocks and radioed back details as he went.

Mr. Kelly noted his “remarkable, disciplined calm.” He said Officer Estrada, “radioed clipped and precise descriptions of the suspect and direction of flight as he pursued the killer.”

And, those in the 75th say, he was fleet of foot.

R.I.P. Officer Figoski

Officer Figoski will be buried on Monday, after a two-day wake, according to Mike Bosak, a retired sergeant and an unofficial department historian. He issued the following notice about Officer Figoski in his weekly newsletter:

Funeral Arrangements for P.O. Peter Figoski (75 Pct)

Wake: Saturday & Sunday from 14:00-16:30 and 19:00-21:30 (both days)

Boyd Funeral Home
448 West Main Street
Babylon, N.Y.

Mass Monday @ 11:00 hrs

St Joseph Church
39 North Carll Ave
Babylon, N.Y.

Cemetery: North Babylon Cemetery
Livingston Ave & Sunrise Hwy
West Babylon, N.Y.

– Article originally from The New York Times.