Marijuana-related summonses on the rise in NYC, East New York; minority nabes feeling the heat: report

The NYPD is on pace to give out more summonses for public marijuana use in 2015 than last year, with numerous violations in black and Latino neighborhoods, data shows.

East New York, which is policed by the 75th precinct, has the second-highest number of pot possession summonses in New York in the first three months of 2015. Police have issued more than 3,800 marijuana-related violations citywide alone in the first three months of this year — putting them on track to exceed the 13,377 summonses issued in all of 2014.

They are the fourth-most frequent summons charge, following public consumption of alcohol, disorderly conduct, and public urination.

East New York is home to nearly 175,000 people, according to the city. Less than 10 percent are white, and most residents are younger than 45 years old. Many seldom leave Brooklyn. About 35 percent live below the poverty line– and only about 8 percent have earned a college degree.

Warm summer weekends in East New York usually mean block parties and young men on the porches of their row homes smoking joints. Cops often issue these young men minor marijuana violations which land them at the county’s central bookings. Often, they are ordered to pay a fine.

When officers patrol the blocks of East New York, they peek into yards and porches, according to lifelong resident Chris Banks. He is the executive director of East New York United Concerned Citizens Inc., and a vice-chairman on the 75th precinct community council.

The patrols lead to frequent citations for small-scale marijuana use, and increase tension between police and neighborhood residents, he said.

“They’re putting officers in our community, a lot of rookie officers that don’t know nothing about East New York,” said Banks, 32. “They have no experience dealing with a community like ours, and they come out here and it’s like they think it’s the Wild Wild West.”

The 75th precinct had 180 pot summonses in the first quarter of 2015. There were 307 in all of 2014 in the precinct.

The city’s largest precinct, the 105th in Queens, ranked No. 1 in pot summonses for the first three months of 2015.

When an altercation with the police happens nearby, neighbors don’t hesitate to knock on Banks’ door for help – even on Sunday, he said.

Citations for unlawful possession of small amounts of marijuana generally take two forms: desk appearance tickets and summonses.

A desk appearance ticket requires cops to bring an individual to the precinct during processing. A summons means a court date is issued at the scene. A marijuana-related incident often results in a desk appearance ticket rather than a summons when the individual does not have personal identification on hand, says Tim Pearson, president of the New York chapter of the National Organization of Black Law Enforcement.

The fines for unlawful possession and use of marijuana range from $100 to $250. The defendant can also serve 15 days in jail, depending on factors like criminal history.

Unlawful marijuana possession has been the most common desk appearance ticket charge since 2004, when NYPD “stop, question and frisk” practices contributed to arrests for marijuana possession, according to the city’s 2014 criminal court report. Marijuana-related tickets and summons’ fines generated more than $5 million for New York state and city coffers in 2014, according to a News21 analysis of criminal court data.

Has it been the most common DAT in 2015, since that has been decriminalized?

“It’s been an ongoing issue since the [decriminalization] law has been in effect that they are being taken down to the precinct, simply because they don’t know their rights,” said Rev. Dr. Kevin McCall, a crisis counselor for Al Sharpton’s National Action Network in Brooklyn and Harlem.

This is a new form of stop and frisk that they do to be able to at least bring someone in to write down their quota at the end of the week. We have seen an increase in this, especially in the summertime.”

“They wanted to give it some type of cosmetic change … to me, it’s more punitive,” Banks said. “You’re going after impoverished folk who they know can’t afford to pay these summonses.”

Brooklyn District Attorney Ken Thompson threw out more than 1,000 of the estimated 3,300 marijuana-related desk appearance tickets issued by NYPD officers between July 2014 and April of this year, according to his spokesman. He also plans to continue declining to proseucte many low-level pot cases.

A policy memo released last July said this was done so that “individuals, and especially young people of color, do not become unfairly burdened and stigmatized by involvement in the criminal justice system for engaging in nonviolent conduct that poses no threat of harm to persons or property.”

Mayor de Blasio ran in 2013 on a platform committing to decriminalizing marijuana possession.

Cops arrested more than 15,000 people for marijuana during the first seven months of his administration. Of those arrests in the beginning of 2014, 86% were blacks and Latinos, according to Harry Levine, a professor of sociology at Queens College.

De Blasio then ordered Police Commissioner Bill Bratton to replace misdemeanor arrests with summonses.

The NYPD did not respond to multiple requests for comment. A spokeswoman for the mayor’s office said the administration rolled out the new policy to reduce “unnecessary arrests that could saddle young people with criminal records for minor violations.”

“The NYPD’s 42% decrease in marijuana arrests clearly reflects this policy at work,” spokeswoman Monica Klein said in a statement. “The mayor’s marijuana policy is one of the many reforms this administration is rolling out to strengthen the relationship between police and community while keeping New York City the safest big city in the country.”

During the “stop, question and frisk” era of New York policing since the early 1990s, in which officers had wide discretion when deciding whether they had reasonable cause to stop and search someone, marijuana-related incidents occurred disproportionately in East New York and other Brooklyn neighborhoods with similar demographics, such as Brownsville and Canarsie.

After de Blasio downgraded marijuana possession enforcement in 2014, the number of reported police stops dropped from nearly 700,000 in 2011 to just over 46,000 in 2014. The incidents involving marijuana decreased from more than 30,000 to about 2,000 during that time period.

More than 1,300 of the people cited for marijuana possession in 2014 were black and nearly 600 others were Hispanic, according to the NYPD’s Stop, Question and Frisk online database.

Retired Brooklyn North cop Auriello V. Grillo Jr., who policed high-crime precincts when he was an officer, said stops have declined because cops fear being disciplined and sued– and predicted that crime will rise.

“Mostly stop and frisk has been over with. They’re backing off,” said Grillo. “It’s a good tool, but the recent police department put too much pressure on these young cops to go out there and use this stop and frisk, and record how many they were doing. And they were giving them quotas.”


Lauren Del Valle is a News21 investigative reporting fellow. For the complete project “America’s Weed Rush,” visit weedrush.news21.com