A new report [PDF] issued by the Drug Policy Alliance shows from 2002 to 2012 the NYPD has spent at least one million hours arresting and processing low-level marijuana arrests. The amount of manpower expended to prosecute the possession of a substance that was essentially decriminalized in 1977 is all the more shocking when you consider that the NYPD has been drastically cutting its number of uniformed personnel since 2002: the year Bloomberg took office, 37,000 officers were on patrol. Next year, the size of the force will dip to a 21 year-low, at 34,500. It's almost as if officers had to arrest or cite a certain number of people every month, or something.
The report was created at the behest of the New York City Council and the New York State Legislature. It includes a litany of quotes from experts, professors, and journalists, but here's the most depressing, courtesy of former Minneapolis Chief of Police and Bronx police commander Anthony Bouza:
New York City’s current marijuana arrests are exactly analogous to the roundup of gays in the 1950s and 1960s that Mayor Lindsay stopped. And the offenses represent exactly the same level of risk to the public. Making marijuana arrests a priority is a waste of police resources and does not reduce street violence. Illegal, trivial, meaningless arrests undermine confidence in the justice system and corrupt the enforcers.
At a hearing before the City Council Public Safety committee last week, NYPD Commissioner Ray Kelly was asked if the NYPD continues to arrest people who display marijuana in public view at the request of a police officer: "No. We put that out as internal policy." Kelly noted that overall, marijuana arrests are going down, which is true. Last year saw a drop of 22%.
The authors of the study stress that the numbers are conservative. As wasteful as one million hours are, the 440,000 people who were arrested for minor marijuana possession between 2002 and 2012 (most of them black or brown) spent at least five million hours in police custody. Thankfully, broader decriminalization measures could alleviate the issue very soon.