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Number of Pot Arrests Still Too High, Group Says, But Police See Progress

By Ted Cox | October 2, 2014 6:11pm
 Chicago Police say they've made progress in issuing tickets for misdemeanor marijuana possession rather than making arrests.
Chicago Police say they've made progress in issuing tickets for misdemeanor marijuana possession rather than making arrests.
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CITY HALL — The percentage of people ticketed for marijuana possession has greatly increased over the last year, but an activist group is pressing the city on why more than 60 percent of pot possession busts still end with arrests.

According to Charlene Carruthers, national coordinator for Black Youth Project 100, Chicago Police Supt. Garry McCarthy "has said over and over again we should be ticketing, not arresting, but it still happens."

Thursday at City Hall, Carruthers cited figures showing the city spends $80 million a year processing marijuana arrests, even as both McCarthy and Mayor Rahm Emanuel have touted reforms intended to replace those arrests with revenue-producing ticket citations.

 Charlene Carruthers of Black Youth Project 100 seeks a meeting with Police Supt. Garry McCarthy on the issue.
Charlene Carruthers of Black Youth Project 100 seeks a meeting with Police Supt. Garry McCarthy on the issue.
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DNAinfo/Ted Cox

Building on reports published in the Chicago Reader, Roosevelt University issued a study earlier this year showing that the city was not making sufficient use of the reform legislation.

A DNAinfo Chicago map produced last year showed Portage Park on the Northwest Side had the most tickets for marijuana possession, but critics respond that arrests have concentrated on the West and South sides.

Carruthers said those arrested rather than ticketed were "primarily black Chicagoans," adding, "It's absolutely an unjust and a racially biased policy ... and it doesn't keep us safer."

Police spokesman Martin Maloney countered Thursday that the mayor had pressed forward with new reforms midway through this year.

He acknowledged that, when the new ordinance was introduced two years ago, "[there] were also higher ticketing rates in certain police districts, and racial disparities in ticketing across the city." But he blamed regulations that called for an arrest when an offender didn't have a proper form of identification, and said Emanuel had since called for new policies compromising on that.

"The new policies have resulted in a significant increase in ticketing," Maloney said. "Additionally, the racial disparity in ticketing has been essentially erased, with African-American, white and non-white offenders ticketed for cannabis possession at the same rates."

According to department statistics, 23 percent of possession violations through August this year have resulted in tickets rather than arrests, up from 6 percent over the same eight-month period last year. There is little disparity between races when it comes to ticketing, with African Americans and whites being ticketed 24 percent of the time, and Hispanics 19 percent.

Last year, more than 5 percent of African Americans were ticketed, with 16 percent of whites and 7 percent of Hispanics and other non-whites being ticketed.

Yet that still means that three-quarters of marijuana violations have resulted in arrests this year. And even as Maloney said the arrest rate dropped to 68.4 percent in July and August, that still means more than two-thirds of pot violations resulted in arrests.

The Roosevelt study complained those rates were too high and said Chicago was among the areas making least use of the reform legislation.

That spurred Carruthers to push for a meeting with McCarthy. But after a month of pursuing such a meeting, "he has yet to respond to us."

"We are working to schedule a meeting between the Black Youth Project 100 and executives from CPD," Maloney said.

Black Youth Project 100 is a national group with 200 organizers, about 50 stationed in Chicago, Carruthers said.

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