highs and lows

Disparities in Staten Island Pot Arrests Draw Concern

Albany lawmakers passed a bill decriminalizing small amounts of marijuana in June.
Albany lawmakers passed a bill decriminalizing small amounts of marijuana in June. Photo: Ben Fractenberg/THE CITY

If you’re going to smoke a joint on Staten Island, consider avoiding the North Shore.

Cops have made 35 marijuana arrests this year through June in the precinct area where Eric Garner died in 2014 — far outpacing the rest of the borough and much of the city, NYPD statistics show.

The 120th Precinct accounts for nearly three times as many pot busts as Staten Island’s three other precincts combined. Local elected officials said they were troubled by the statistics, and would watch carefully as a new marijuana decriminalization law goes into effect later this month.

“I am interested in finding out why there is such a disparity among the precincts,” Councilwoman Debi Rose (D-Staten Island), who represents the North Shore, told THE CITY in a statement.

“We know that drug use and drug abuse has been a borough-wide problem,” she added. “I find it hard to believe people use marijuana only on the North Shore, so I question why the 120th Precinct is home to almost all of the marijuana-related arrests on Staten Island.”

North Shore Assemblymember Charles Fall (D-Staten Island) said he hoped the new law decriminalizing small amounts of marijuana would bring some balance to policing pot.

“The law will not only help communities in my district, but communities throughout New York State that have been directly impacted by marijuana criminalization by addressing decades-old disparity that exists in certain drug charges,” Fall said.

In One Precinct, Two Arrests

Staten Island’s next highest number of pot arrests — six — came in the 121st Precinct. The 122nd Precinct recorded four arrests, while the 123rd precinct logged two.

Citywide, only two other precincts — The Bronx’s 52nd and Queens’ 103rd — made more marijuana-related arrests during the same period.

On Staten Island, the borough’s highest concentration of black and Latino residents — about 51% — live in the 120th Precinct, while the lowest concentration — about 10% — live in the area covered by the 123rd Precinct.

Tompkinsville Park is in the 120th Precinct.
Tompkinsville Park is in the 120th Precinct. Photo: Clifford Michel /THE CITY

“There’s such a divide in ways that laws are enforced on Staten Island,” said Julienne Verdi, the chair and co-founder of Move Forward Staten Island,  a social justice advocacy group.

North Shore residents from Rosebank to Westerleigh told THE CITY the numbers were no surprise to them.

Keith Owens, a Tompkinsville resident, standing across the street from where Garner died five years ago at the hands of a cop, said the neighborhood is overpoliced.

“They want to catch us doing something. If you’re on your own, just doing your own thing, and it’s late at night, eventually an unmarked car will come for you,” Owens said. “Especially out here. They think they can do anything to us.”

“Those guys down at the 120 are very aggressive,“ said Bob Lang, a Stapleton resident. “If I have a can of beer in a brown bag, and even if it’s not open, they’ll roll up on me like gangbusters.”

‘Decriminalization is Not Enough’

Staten Island District Attorney Michael McMahon told THE CITY in April interview that his office wouldn’t follow city DAs who vowed to not prosecute most marijuana-related offenses.

But a spokesperson for McMahon said this week that his office will no longer be prosecuting arrests for marijuana possession, citing Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s signing of the decriminalization bill.

NYPD officials didn’t immediately respond to questions about the disparity in marijuana arrests on Staten Island, and about how the department would deal with pot enforcement after the new law goes into effect.

Verdi said the state needs to go further to bring policing parity to Staten Island.

“Decriminalization alone is not enough to deal with the full disparate impact of marijuana prohibition on Staten Island,” said Verdi. “Decriminalization still gives law enforcement too much discretion.”

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