Under “broken windows” policy, marijuana citations in New York rose a thousandfold

Black and Hispanic people make up just 54.1% of NYC population, but account for 86.6% of pot arrests

Written by Evan Anderson
Edited by JPat Brown

Statistics compiled by the New York Department of Criminal Justice Services on arrests related to marijuana indicate that despite successful legalization efforts in Colorado, Washington, and most recently, Alaska, prohibition in New York is in full swing.

The data, which was produced in response to a public records request, contain a plethora of information on the number of arrests by county, the age of the arrestees, the number of arrests that led to a conviction, the type of sentence given to those convicted, and the ethnicity/race of the arrestees.

Comparing per capita rates of marijuana-related arrests in New York State to those of California, Arizona, and Florida, we can see that New York far surpasses Arizona and California but is still shy of Florida, with a considerable decline in arrests rates between 2011 and 2013.

Data for New York’s arrest rates go all the way back to 1978, when only 514 arrests were made for marijuana-related offenses in the entire state, and as recent as 2013, when that figure jumped to 31,613. In New York City, arrest rates fluctuated between 1978 and 1996, when the total number of arrests nearly doubled between 1996 – 1997 and again between 1997 – 1998. This dramatic increase coincides with the introduction of the “broken windows” theory of policing in response to New York’s high rates of violent crime in the 1990s.

Though the arrest rate tapers off slightly after 2004, arrests made in New York City still comprised 88.5% of the total number in New York state in the year 2013, despite contributing just under 43% to the total population in the state.

Rates of arrest aren’t the whole story, though, so it’s useful to compare the total number of arrests to the number that actually led to conviction:

Curiously, between 2009 and 2011 nearly half of all cases were dismissed for what is known as “adjournment in contemplation of dismissal,” (ACD) a kind of legal limbo in which a case is delayed for a period of time after which the charges will be dismissed as long as the defendant stays out of trouble. For years 2012 and 2013, ACDs jumped to 57.2% and 60.1% of cases, respectively. (New York has a procedure for ACDs specifically for cases involving offenses related to marijuana.) Since 2010, convictions have remained at just under one-third of all cases, a number that appears to conflict with the figures used for the above chart.

Looking at the type of sentence handed down to convicted offenders in New York City, it is interesting to note that there is a relatively even distribution between sentences to time served, conditional discharge, and a fine.

Homing in on the regions that make up New York City as well as the next top counties in the state which frequently make arrests for marijuana offenses – Suffolk County and Westchester County – the disparity between arrests in terms of race/ethnicity in the year 2013 becomes clear. Only Suffolk County and Ulster County arrested considerably more Whites than Black or Hispanic people, while a few others such as Nassau County and Niagara County arrested a handful more Whites than Black or Hispanic people.

Combining the regions that make up New York City, arrest rates broken down by ethnicity/race show a significant disparity. Controlling for the number of White, Black, and Hispanic people, respectively, who call the city their home, Black people are 9.2 times more likely to be arrested for marijuana offenses than White people, despite evidence that Black people and White people generally use marijuana at the same rate. Hispanic people, on the other hand, are 6.2 times more likely than White people to be arrested in New York City. Though Black and Hispanic people make up just 54.1% of the population of New York City, they account for 86.6% of arrests.

New York City, of course, isn’t alone in having a significant racial disparity in arrest rates. California’s data, obtained via Dave Maass’ request, show that the Golden State arrests Black and Hispanic people for marijuana related offenses significantly more than White people.

Black people in California are 7.1 times more likely than White people to be arrested, while Hispanic people are 2.8 times more likely to be arrested relative to White people. The average Black person smoking marijuana in New York City is more than twice as likely to be arrested than the average Black person toking up in California.

All told, an average of one in every 155 Black people who lived in New York in 2013 – whether or not they smoked marijuana – was arrested for a marijuana-related offense.

Check out the data on the request page, or embedded below:


Image via US Marshal’s Flickr