Albany Times Union, November
Police Chief Eric Hawkins blames a disparity in the number of low-level marijuana arrests made among the city’s blacks and Hispanics on his department’s focus on quality-of-life issues and emergency calls in the neighborhoods most ravaged by crime.
The police department was criticized over how officers police minority communities earlier this year after a Times Union investigation found marijuana arrests surged in 2017 and 2018 throughout Albany County, with the arrests being made almost exclusively among people of color.
Hawkins said during the department’s investigation of the disparity, officials found that those arrests often happened during special operation efforts addressing quality-of-life and violent-crime calls in those neighborhoods.
“We were concentrating our efforts in order to address some of those issues in those areas,” he said. “What we found is that in those areas marijuana was a huge issue in terms of the calls – a lot of the violence and a lot of the quality of life.”
About 150 black and Hispanic New Yorkers were arrested in Albany County for four types of marijuana-related offenses in 2018. By contrast, 43 whites were arrested for marijuana-related offenses, according to arrest data from the state Division of Criminal Justice Services. About half of those arrests were for low-level possession charges, data shows.
Hawkins said about 60 percent of those arrests were connected to violent crime, domestic violence or some other quality of life issue.
The trend appears to be continuing for the city department, which has made 110 arrests for unlawful possession of marijuana, a violation, so far this year, with the vast majority of those arrests among people of color, police department arrest data gathered by neighborhood shows. Only 11 white people were arrested for the same offense.
As New York inches closer to legalizing recreational cannabis use, law enforcement agencies will have to adjust how they handle marijuana arrests.