Public Release: 

NYPD targets black, Hispanic and poor neighborhoods for arrests for smoking marijuana in public

BioMed Central

Arrests for smoking marijuana in public have shifted from occurring mostly in rich, central areas of New York City (NYC) in the early 1990's, to occurring mostly in poor, black or Hispanic areas of the city in 2003. A study published today in the open access journal Harm Reduction Journal reveals that arrests for smoking marijuana in public now occur mostly in the black, Hispanic or poor areas of New York City, especially in the Hispanic areas of the Bronx, the black and Hispanic sections of Brooklyn and in Queens.

The authors conclude that these arrests, which increased throughout the 1990's to reach a peak of 51,000 in 2000, do not seem to be primarily serving the goals of 'quality-of-life' policing - which aims to penalise even minor criminal offences in highly public locations - anymore. The tendency to target areas populated by poor or ethnic communities might be exacerbating race relations in NYC, say the authors. The authors suggest that the NYPD should issue Desk Appearance tickets, court summons or simply ask smokers to stop smoking and discard their drugs, instead of arresting individuals smoking marijuana in public.

Andrew Golub, from the National Development and Research Institutes (NDRI) in New York City and from the University of Vermont, along with colleagues from NDRI, analysed the records of adult marijuana arrests made by the New York Police Department (NYPD) from January 1980 to December 2003. Golub et al. built maps showing the areas of New York City where these arrests took place, every year, from 1992 to 2003. The study was funded by the Marijuana Policy Project and the National Institute on Drug Abuse.

The results of Golub et al.'s study reveal that arrests for smoking marijuana in public shifted geographically between 1992 and 2003. In 1992, such arrests were scattered broadly throughout the city, with a slight concentration in Greenwich Village, Soho and Washington Heights in Manhattan. From 1996 onwards, however, most of the arrests recorded occurred in poor, black or Hispanic areas of NYC. In 2003, the most arrests occurred mainly in two poor Hispanic sections of the Bronx (Highbridge, Concourse Village and University Heights, Fordham, Mt. Hope), two poor black and Hispanic sections of Brooklyn (Brownsville, Ocean City and East New York, Starrett City), a wealthier black section of Brooklyn (East Flatbush, Rugby, Farragut), a wealthier black section of Queens (Jamaica, St. Albans, Hollis), and two very mixed wealthier communities in Queens (Astoria, Long Island City) and Staten Island (Stapleton, Port Richmond). In these areas 1,000 arrests or more were recorded in 2003. In contrast, none of the Manhattan precincts had 1,000 or more arrests recorded that year.


Smoking marijuana in public: The spatial and policy shift in New York City arrests, 1992-2003
Andrew Golub, Bruce D.Johnson, and Eloise Dunlap
Harm Reduction Journal 2006 (in press)

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