The arrests for marijuana possession first increased dramatically under Mayor Rudolph Giuliani. They have continued unabated under Mayor Michael Bloomberg. By 2008 Bloomberg had arrested more people for pot possession than Giuliani, and more than other mayor in the world.
Why has the NYPD continued to order narcotics and patrol officers to make so many misdemeanor pot arrests? For many reasons. The arrests are easy, safe, and provide training for new officers. The arrests gain overtime pay for patrol and narcotics police and their supervisors. The pot arrests allow officers to show productivity, which counts for promotions and choice assignments. Marijuana arrests enable the NYPD to obtain fingerprints, photographs and other data on many young people they would not otherwise have in their criminal justice databases. And there is very little public criticism and thus far no political opposition to New York City's marijuana arrest crusade.
Do the pot arrests reduce serious and violent crimes? No, if anything they increase other crimes. Professors Harcourt and Ludwig at the University of Chicago Law School analyzed NYPD data and concluded that the pot possession arrests took officers off the street and distracted them from other crime-fighting activities. "New York City’s marijuana policing strategy," they reported, "is having exactly the wrong effect on serious crime – increasing it, rather than decreasing it.” Veteran police officers agree terming the possession arrests "a waste of time." The arrests drain resources not just of police, but also of courts, jails, prosecutors and public defenders.
Perhaps most appalling is who the police are arresting for marijuana possession. U.S. government studies have consistently found that young whites use marijuana at higher rates than do young blacks or Latinos. But the NYPD has long arrested young blacks and Latinos for pot possession at much higher rates than whites.