Pot possession arrests in the city increased for a seventh straight year in 2011, according to state crime statistics, despite an order from Police Commissioner Ray Kelly for cops to only arrest people who have the drug in plain sight.
Even with a slight drop-off in arrests following Kelly's September order, the number of low-level busts for marijuana possession increased to nearly 50,700 last year -- up about 300 from 2010 -- according the Drug Policy Alliance.
The statistics also show that most of those arrested in the city were Black or Latino men under 26.
"The numbers are what they are, based on situations officers encountered in the street," Kelly told reporters during an unrelated news conference Wednesday according to the AP.
“If you have [marijuana] in plain sight, then it is a misdemeanor,” Kelly said. “If you're directed by an officer to take it out of your pocket, that's not the intent of the law… Very difficult to quantify whether or not that was happening.”
But Gabriel Sayegh, the alliance’s state director, said cops were often tricking people into emptying their pockets or searching them illegally.
“The majority of these arrests are the results of illegal arrests or false charges,” Sayegh said. “The police simply search people illegally, or find marijuana in their pocket and charge them for having it in the public view.”
Critics of the marijuana arrests and police “stop-and-frisks” include Assemblyman Hakeem Jeffries, who introduced legislation to standardize penalties for pot possession.
“The continued marijuana arrest explosion is unfair, unjust and unconscionable,” Jeffries (D-Brooklyn) said in a statement Thursday. “It wastes millions of taxpayer dollars and needlessly ruins the lives of tens of thousands of New Yorkers.”
Queens College sociology professor Harry Levine, who researches drug policy, said the NYPD has “continued its marijuana arrest crusade.”
“It’s fair to say that [Mayor Michael] Bloomberg has made more arrests than any mayor in the history of New York City or in the history of America,” he said, adding that pot arrests in the city are higher than those for any other offense.
A spokesman for Bloomberg said critics of the Mayor and NYPD “seem to omit the fact that the last decade was also the safest in city history.”