NYPD Tells Officers to Keep Making Pot Arrests, Despite Brooklyn DA's Memo

By Murray WeissTom Liddy and Nicole Bode  on July 12, 2014 11:26am  | Updated on July 14, 2014 7:29am

 Police will still make arrests for low-level pot possession in Brooklyn despite Brooklyn District Attorney Kenneth Thompson's vow not to prosecute them, according to an NYPD memo sent July 11, 2014.
Police will still make arrests for low-level pot possession in Brooklyn despite Brooklyn District Attorney Kenneth Thompson's vow not to prosecute them, according to an NYPD memo sent July 11, 2014.
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ONE POLICE PLAZA — The NYPD is telling its officers to keep making the lower-level marijuana busts that they had been, despite a recent memo from Brooklyn DA Kenneth Thompson that his office would no longer prosecute such cases, and said that it would defend them against lawsuits if they were to arise.

"The Brooklyn DA's new policy does not change any policy, practice or procedure of the NYPD," read the directive, sent out Friday afternoon with orders to read it at roll calls for all officers assigned in Brooklyn. "The NYPD will continue to enforce the law uniformly throughout all five boroughs of the city.

"The Brooklyn DA has the authority to determine how his office will prosecute cases, but that does not limit the authority of the NYPD to make lawful arrests."

The NYPD memo, to be read at 10 consecutive Brooklyn roll calls, comes just days after Police Commissioner Bill Bratton conveyed those sentiments publicly, saying that Thompson's action "really does not change the working circumstances of police officers who are in the field," according to Capital New York.

After the same event in Queens where Bratton spoke, Mayor Bill de Blasio emphasized that officers have "discretion" in making arrests for low-level marijuana offenses.

"In the end, in each moment where a police office encounters a citizen is individual and officers must use their discretion," he said, according to Capital. "And there is absolute consistency in the district attorney’s position."

Thompson announced on Tuesday that his office will no longer prosecute first-time, low-level marijuana possession offenders "under most circumstances."

The move was intended to "make better use of limited law enforcement resources and to prevent offenders — who are disproportionately young men of color — from being saddled with a criminal record for a minor, non-violent offense," according to a statement.

According to Thompson, the directive will not apply to those who are smoking in public or around children, 16- or 17-year-old offenders, who will be placed in a diversion program, or people with serious criminal records.

The NYPD memo states that it will also back up its officers in court if they are sued as long as they are not in violation of department rules, the memo adds.

"Properly conducted, marijuana arrests meet all of these (legal) requirements, whether or not the District Attorney chooses to move forward with a prosecution," the memo reads.

According to a source, the DA's office did not expect the police to change their position, as was indicated in Thompson's memo. It also indicates that officers would be protected from civil liability, the source said.

The memo also comes on the same week that Gov. Andrew Cuomo signed into law a plan to make medical marijuana legal for patients some time in the next year and a half. The plan, which will be overseen by the State Department of Health, will rely on state-sanctioned dispensaries and DOH-issued identification cards for qualifying patients. It will prohibit marijuana that's smoked.

The NYPD did not immediately respond to a request for comment. The Brooklyn DA declined comment.

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