The NYPD is making nearly twice as many narcotics arrests per month since Mayor Eric Adams took office — a strategy police officials say is key to reducing community violence, but that has alarmed public defenders and advocates.
According to a Gothamist analysis of police data, police made 740 drug arrests citywide in January 2022 when Adams was inaugurated. Since then, there’s been a steady uptick in drug arrests, and in June, the most recent month for which data is available, there were 1,360. That’s an 84% increase.
Adams and police officials say they’ve upped the enforcement of drug crimes largely in response to emergency and non-emergency calls from residents — and that clamping down on those crimes is key to improving safety and quality of life in the city.
But critics say cracking down on street-level drug crimes harks back to a 1990s policing mindset that does little to address larger drug trafficking patterns and unfairly targets Black and Latino New Yorkers in poor neighborhoods.
Last month, an NYPD sergeant threw a picnic cooler at 30-year-old Eric Duprey from close range, knocking him off his moped and killing him. Police say the Duprey was fleeing from officers. Police say the incident happened while officers were trying to arrest someone for a $20 sale of crack cocaine, though an NYPD spokesperson would not say whether the person they were trying to arrest was Duprey or someone else.
Video footage shows Sgt. Erik Duran — a detective in the specialized Bronx Narcotics Unit — knocking Duprey off his bike. It does not show the events leading up to the incident. Duran has been suspended without pay. A spokesperson for the NYPD would not say whether officers made any arrests in connection with the incident.
The uptick in drug arrests is part of what Adams has said is a push by his office to use police to rein in a pandemic-era spike in crime.
In New York, possessing a small quantity of drugs is typically charged as a misdemeanor. Sales, on the other hand, are charged as felonies, no matter how small the amount. Large-scale drug trafficking cases are generally turned over to federal law enforcement.
Police and court data show that misdemeanor drug arrests in the Bronx have also increased at a higher rate during Adams’ tenure than in any other borough.
Adams, a former police captain, was unapologetic when asked by Gothamist about the citywide increase in drug arrests.
“We’re not doing the games of yesteryears where we ignore [drug crimes],” Adams said at a press conference. “We’re going to continue to do our part of this relationship in the criminal justice system.”
“We’re the enforcers,” he added.
New Yorkers have made over 34,000 complaints to 911 and 311 about drug activity this year, according to a spokesperson for the NYPD. These sorts of complaints are a “real concern” for residents and are often precursors to violence, the spokesperson wrote in an email.
Police say the department’s “precision policing” strategy under Adams has focused on targeting specific people and places rather than stopping broad swaths of New Yorkers as happened during Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s expanded stop-and-frisk era in the early 2000s. The tactics have helped keep violent crimes like murders and shootings at their lowest rates since before the pandemic, according to police.
The mayor and police say that the rationale behind stepping up enforcement is to make drug dealers think twice about committing crimes.
Unlike the rest of the city — where misdemeanor and felony arrests have increased at roughly the same rate — misdemeanor arrests are driving the increase in the Bronx. But the specialized NYPD Bronx Narcotics Unit responsible for Duprey’s death has been making more felony arrests than misdemeanors in recent years. Police data shared with Gothamist shows 82% of their arrests so far this year have been on felony charges — compared to 61% in 2018.
Police and prosecutors did not provide data on how many of the unit’s felony arrests ended in felony convictions, rather than being downgraded or dismissed. But in the borough as a whole, many felony drug charges are downgraded or dismissed, court data shows. Since Adams took office, just 18% of felony arrests in the Bronx — and 22% citywide — have ended in convictions, data shows.
Former police officers said the department places a premium on felony arrests over misdemeanors – especially in specialized narcotics units.
“Getting the felony means you’ve done really good work,” said Jill Snider, a former NYPD officer in the now-dissolved anti-crime and Street Narcotics Enforcement Unit and current adjunct professor at John Jay College of Criminal Justice.
The outcomes of drug cases can be arbitrary, sometimes hinging on how much time prosecutors have to scrutinize evidence, according to Snider. Ann Mathews, managing director of criminal defense at Bronx Defenders, said many of the cases are fraught with error.
“These are arrests that never should have been made and it’s therefore not surprising that the ultimate prosecution fails,” she said.
Mathews said the uptick in drug arrests targets mostly Black and Latino communities and relies on questionable tactics like stop and frisk, which is on the rise. Just 5% of people stopped by police since Adams took office have been white, Gothamist previously reported.
Nearly everyone prosecuted for drugs in the Bronx this year — 94% — has been Black or Latino, according to data collected by the state courts. That’s compared to about 85% of total Bronx residents who are Black and Latino, according to 2020 census data.
Street-level drug arrests do not slow down drug sales, drug use or overdoses — in part because small-time drug dealers are quickly and easily replaced, according to Pew research.
“It’s like taking a pale to the ocean to empty it out,” said Keith Taylor, a former NYPD sergeant who worked in the department’s Emergency Service Unit, and current adjunct assistant professor at John Jay.
“You cannot arrest your way out of a problem.”
Source : https://gothamist.com/news/nypd-officers-are-making-84-more-drug-arrests-per-month-since-mayor-adams-took-office