Pubdate: Tue, 03 Apr 2012
Source: New York Daily News (NY)
Copyright: 2012 Daily News, L.P.
Author: Daniel Beekman


Bronx cops made hundreds of unlawful marijuana arrests and trumped-up 
charges over a five-month period last year despite a warning from 
Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly, claims a study by the Bronx Defenders.

The study released Friday shows that illegal stops and searches are 
an "epidemic" in the Bronx, said Robin Steinberg, Bronx Defenders 
executive director.

Her organization interviewed 518 people apprehended for marijuana 
possession from May to October 2011 and found that 41% had their 
rights violated.

In 176 cases, there was no cause for people to be detained, and in 
184, the organization concluded that cops "manufactured" misdemeanor 
charges by forcing people to show their pot.

Nearly all the people arrested for marijuana possession in the Bronx 
are black and Latino men.

The cases reveal "a policing strategy that overwhelmingly and 
disproportionately targets young people of color and relies on 
rampant disregard for the civil rights of the people the NYPD is 
charged with protecting," the organization said in a statement.

In New York, possession of a small amount of marijuana is only a 
misdemeanor when the pot is displayed in public. When the substance 
is concealed, it becomes a violation punishable by a fine - even when 
an officer pulls the pot out of the defendant's pocket or orders the 
defendant to pull it out.

NYPD officials said they would not comment because they have not seen 
the study.

Last September, the commissioner issued an internal order related to 
arrests for small amounts of pot not in public view.

However, the Marijuana Arrest Project study found that illegal stops 
and wrongful marijuana arrests actually increased in the month after 
the order, from 31% to 44% and from 33% to 44%.

People arrested for pot in the Bronx are often handcuffed and jailed 
for 24 hours. Such arrests can ruin lives because they can lead to a 
criminal record, eviction, deportation, loss of parental rights, 
denial of financial aid and loss of employment.

The negative consequences of the arrests hurt the low-income 
neighborhoods where most of the collars are made, Steinberg said.

Many people arrested for small amounts of marijuana in the Bronx have 
no prior criminal record and receive adjournments that are eventually 

Most defendants who fight back plead guilty rather than miss work or 
school for numerous court dates, said Scott Levy, the Bronx Defenders 
lawyer who led the study.

Vocal critics of the "stop and frisk" strategy used by the NYPD, 
including the Bronx Defenders, claim it leads to illegal searches of 
minority youth.

But proponents such as Kelly and Mayor Bloomberg argue it allows 
officers to nab people with illegal guns and make high-crime 
neighborhoods safer.
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom