The NYPD says its pot arrests are driven by neighborhood complaints — but newly released data shows cops might be blowing smoke.
Under scrutiny for a huge racial gap in marijuana busts, NYPD brass told the City Council Monday that they’re making arrests in neighborhoods where residents are calling to complain about public weed smoking.
But according to stats they handed over after the hearing, of the five neighborhoods with the most arrests for criminal possession of marijuana in 2016, only one ranked in the top five for 911 calls about pot.
In 2017, two of the top five neighborhoods for arrests were also in the top five for 911 calls, but the other three were not.
“It does not add up,” said Councilman Donovan Richards (D-Queens), chairman of the Public Safety Committee. “Every community is calling about this issue, so why are black and brown communities the ones who are overly arrested?”
Under a new policy instituted by Mayor de Blasio, cops give summonses instead of making arrests for most people they catch with marijuana. But if someone is caught smoking in public, they still get arrested.
In 2016, cops made the most pot arrests in East Harlem’s 25th precinct, with 757 busts. Next up were the 40th precinct in the south Bronx, 30th and 32nd in Harlem, and 43rd in the south Bronx.
But most 911 calls were coming from different neighborhoods — the 44th precinct in the Bronx had the highest number, with 1,165. Then came the 46th precinct, 52nd, and 40th precincts, all also in the Bronx, and the 75th precinct in East New York, Brooklyn.
There was more overlap in 2017, but still no strict correlation.
The 46th precinct in the central Bronx made the most 911 calls, with 1,067, followed by the nearby 44th with 1,010.
But East Harlem was again tops in arrests, with 815. The 40th precinct, which was second in arrests, was fourth in 911 calls. The 42nd precinct was fifth in both 911 complaints and arrests.
The East Harlem precinct that topped the arrest list in both years had a more modest 330 911 calls in 2016 and 391 in 2017.
Some 86% of the people arrested for pot possession between 2014 and 2016 were black and Latino.
The NYPD says the stats on complaints may not be exact — they include calls for “marijuana,” “marihuana,” and “weed,” but don’t include calls that use other terms for pot or complain about “smoking” or “drugs.” They also don’t include complaints about disorderly groups hanging out on the street, which may include people smoking pot.
“It is the department’s contention that there are significant numbers of marijuana-related incidents within these calls as well,” NYPD officials wrote in the documents provided to the Council.
In all, the NYPD identified 25,732 911 calls about pot in 2017, a 12% increase from the year before. Calls to 311 jumped 58%, to 1,703.
Richards said in his own district’s 105th precinct in Rosedale and Laurelton, Queens, there were 253 calls to both 911 and 311 in 2017, compared to 2,503 arrests and summonses.
“I think that is largely fabricated,” he said of cops’ claim they’re responding to complaints. “In a black middle class neighborhood that I live in, it’s very rare that I see people just up and down our streets burning” marijuana.
The NYPD did not respond to requests for comment Tuesday.
At the hearing Monday, Chief Dermot Shea said cops don’t want to ignore a “woman walking into the building with her kids that has to walk by sometimes three people smoking marijuana” or “bringing their kids to the park, and there’s people smoking marijuana.”
“That is something we constantly need to balance out,” he said.