The D.A.’s office released a memo on Tuesday, July 8, outlining the reasons for the new policy, which differs from that of the four other boroughs.
“The goal of this new policy is to ensure that: (1) the limited resources of this Office are allocated in a manner that most enhances public safety; and (2) individuals, and especially young people of color, do not become unfairly burdened and stigmatized by involvement in the criminal justice system for engaging in non-violent conduct that poses no threat of harm to persons or property,” the memo reads.
The policy addresses cases of possession of marijuana in the fifth degree, a misdemeanor for holding or burning marijuana in the open, possessing up to two ounces of marijuana and unlawful possession of marijuana, which is a violation.
Under the new policy, someone who is arrested for marijuana possession will still be taken to the local precinct, where they will then be sent to central booking. They will then wait in a holding cell for a next-day in-court arraignment, or the police may give a desk appearance ticket for court on a given date.
If the district attorney decides not to prosecute, the office will tell the police to free the person or send a letter canceling the court appearance, and fingerprints will be destroyed.
Concerns have been raised about how this will affect the work of the New York Police Department (NYPD), though the D.A., Mayor Bill de Blasio and NYPD Commissioner William Bratton have all assured that the policy was developed closely with the NYPD and will not affect that department’s work in any way.
The district attorney had a “long and careful dialogue with the NYPD,” according to de Blasio, and is trying to “make sure that our energies go to serious crime and not focus on some of the most minor offenses.”
“The policy is an internal issue to [the D.A.’s] office and it does not impact on the work of the men and women of the New York City Police Department,” Bratton said.
The memo released by Thompson’s office clarified that “the policy does not undermine the authority of police to enforce the law.” Rather, the goal is to keep harmless persons from obtaining a potentially detrimental criminal record.
“If the conduct in which the individual has engaged is the mere possession of a small amount of marijuana in public,” it reads, “it would not, under most circumstances, warrant saddling that individual with a new criminal conviction and all of its attendant collateral consequences related to employment, education and housing.”