The possession of small amounts of marijuana has been decriminalized in New York since the 1970s, but that doesn’t mean Police Commissioner Bill Bratton has to be happy about it. “The idea of decriminalizing marijuana, I think, is a major mistake and something I will never support,” Bratton told City Councilmembers, pushing back on their concern at ongoing high numbers of marijuana arrests.
Bratton’s remarks, made in the course of the City Council’s hearing on the NYPD's budget, didn’t sit well with City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito, who soon afterward stalked out of the Council chamber to give an impromptu press conference in the hallway.
“Let me be clear: at the state level, since the 1970s, for small quantities, it’s been decriminalized,” she said. “My hope is that this is the next major policy change under the NYPD so we can curtail the number of African American and Latino youth that are being criminalized.”
Chief of Department Philip Banks later pointed out that the NYPD is "not focusing" on marijuana, and that there have been 1,000 fewer pot arrests this year than the year before.
— Azi (@Azi) May 20, 2014
The dispute over marijuana policing policy was one of several areas where lawmakers clashed with Bratton at the budget hearing. Councilmembers and Public Advocate Tish James also tried to get police brass to endorse their plan to increase the police staffing by 1,000 officers and cut the amount of police overtime. “Cold cases are backing up, and more cases are coming through the door,” James said. “We need additional officers.”
But the police, falling in line with Mayor Bill de Blasio’s opposition the plan, weren’t biting, saying repeatedly that they’d do the best they could, regardless of staffing levels.
“I know that privately you support this initiative, all of you in this room,” Public Advocate Letitia James told the assembled NYPD leadership. “This really is an appeal to the mayor.”
Bratton earned commendations from councilmembers for his belated announcement last week to finally reevaluate the department policy of using the possession of condoms as evidence against suspected sex workers. In his own statement, Bratton said the policy change would “prevent [prostitutes] from being revictimized by our well-intended efforts.”
"I'm supportive of the concept of drones," says @CommissBratton, for NYPD as well as FDNY.
— jdavidgoodman (@jdavidgoodman) May 20, 2014
Among the drivers of the NYPD’s $4.71 billion budget is an ever-expanding slate of tech initiatives, Bratton said. Among them: plans to create a mobile version of the Department’s Domain Awareness System, putting the feeds of 7,000 surveillance cameras, numerous license-plate readers, and other sensors, in the hands of every beat cop. Bratton also touted the advance of a dystopian-sounding “predictive policing” initiative. “Predictive policing is real and it is here,” Bratton commented.
“We are beginning to write algorithms that identify in a real-time way paths of criminal activity.”
— Azi (@Azi) May 20, 2014
Bratton touted the ongoing decrease in most major crime indices, but James noted that crime in public housing isn’t enjoying the same trend, and blamed a lack of police officers deployed to public housing. “1,900 officers to cover almost 400,000 [public housing] residents is just unacceptable,” she said. James also raised concerns about increased sexual assault and domestic violence reports. Chief of Department Philip Banks responded that such increase in reports does not necessarily indicate increase in crimes committed, but rather suggests that education about sexual violence is leading to more reports.
For fans of last month’s #MyNYPD Twitter debacle, Bratton bore good news: the NYPD, undaunted, is expanding its social media presence. “Our goal is to create Twitter accounts for every one of our Precincts, PSA, and District Commanders by the end of the year.” Can’t wait.