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An analysis of alternatives to New York City's current marijuana arrest and detention policy

Bruce D. Johnson (Institute for Special Populations Research, National Development and Research Institutes, Inc., New York, New York, USA)
Andrew Golub (Institute for Special Populations Research, National Development and Research Institutes, Inc., New York, New York, USA)
Eloise Dunlap (Institute for Special Populations Research, National Development and Research Institutes, Inc., New York, New York, USA)
Stephen J. Sifaneck (Berkeley College, New York, New York, USA)

Policing: An International Journal

ISSN: 1363-951X

Article publication date: 30 May 2008

Abstract

Purpose

During the 1990s, the New York City Police Department (NYPD) instituted a policy of arresting and detaining people for minor offenses that occur in public as part of their quality‐of‐life (QOL) policing initiative. The purpose of this paper is to examine the pros and cons of the current policy and compare it with possible alternatives including: arrest and issuing of a desk appearance ticket (DAT); issuing of a non‐criminal citation (violation); street warnings; and toleration of public marijuana smoking.

Design/methodology/approach

The paper reviews several studies of QOL policing and examines the pros and cons of the current NYPD policy, compared to possible alternatives.

Findings

The number of NYPD arrests for marijuana in public view (MPV) (with most detained for one or two days) increased from 3,000 in 1994 to over 50,000 in 2000, and have been about 30,000 in the mid‐2000s. Most of these arrestees (84 percent) were minority; Blacks were 2.7 more likely and Hispanics 1.8 times more likely to be detained than Whites for an MPV arrest. Minorities received more severe dispositions, even controlling for demographics and prior arrest histories.

Originality/value

The paper recommends that the NYPD change to routinely issuing DATs to reduce detention for marijuana violators. Drug policy reformers might wish to further pursue changing statutes regarding smoking MPV into a violation (non‐criminal) or encourage the wider use of street warnings, as in Britain. Any of these policy changes would help reduce the number detained and the disproportionate burden on minorities associated with the current arrest and detention policy. These policies could help maintain civic norms against smoking marijuana in public.

Keywords

Citation

Johnson, B.D., Golub, A., Dunlap, E. and Sifaneck, S.J. (2008), "An analysis of alternatives to New York City's current marijuana arrest and detention policy", Policing: An International Journal, Vol. 31 No. 2, pp. 226-250. https://doi.org/10.1108/13639510810878703

Publisher

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Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2008, Emerald Group Publishing Limited