NYPD Spent 1 Million Hours Over Last Decade On Marijuana Arrests, Analysis Finds

New York Police Department officers have spent 1 million hours making 440,000 marijuana arrests between 2002 and 2012, according to a new report from the Drug Policy Alliance. DPA put together the data in response to a request from New York City and New York State, as they consider measures to decriminalize marijuana. Each of these arrests can cost $1,000 to $2,000, according to a 2011 DPA estimate, costing New York City $75 million in just a single year (2010). The report explains:

In our ongoing research about marijuana possession arrests in New York, we have found that a basic misdemeanor arrest for marijuana possession in New York City varied from a minimum of two or three hours for one officer, to four or five hours or even longer for multiple officers. […]

We multiplied 2.5 hours by the number of lowest‐level marijuana possession arrests (charged under NYS Penal Law 221.10) for each year since 2002 when Mayor Bloomberg took office. […] That is the equivalent of having 31 police officers working eight hours a day, 365 days a year, for 11 years, making only marijuana possession arrests. […]

Two officers for five hours equals four million hours of police time. This does not include the time spent by police supervisors or by corrections, court, and prosecutor staff, nor the time officers spent searching for people to arrest.

This is not the only area in which New York City police officers have been particularly aggressive. This week, a federal court is hearing a class action challenge to the rampant stop-and-frisks that yielded more NYPD stops in 2011 of young black males than their total population in the city. But the numbers make a compelling case that focusing on marijuana crackdowns detracts both money and resources from addressing serious and violent crime. An 2007 law review article on New York’s marijuana arrests concluded:

We find no good evidence that the MPV [marijuana in public view] arrests are associated with reductions in serious violent or property crimes in the city. As a result New York City’s marijuana policing strategy seems likely to simply divert scarce police resources away from more effective approaches that research suggests is capable of reducing real crime”….

This policing strategy focused on misdemeanor [marijuana in public view] arrests is having exactly the wrong effect on serious crime – increasing it, rather than decreasing it

While New York State decriminalized some marijuana possession in 1977, it did not lower the penalty for the so-called MPV arrests described above. Once a suspect is asked to empty his pockets during one of the millions of NYPD stop-and-frisks, marijuana is considered in “public view” and individuals can be arrested. Reports suggest that the New York State legislature could expand decriminalization to cover MPVs in New York City as early as this week. This would make possession of small amounts of marijuana a civil rather than a criminal infraction. Bloomberg has already eliminated overnight jail custody for those arrested.