MINNEAPOLIS – The Minneapolis Police Department said Thursday it will discontinue undercover stings targeting low-level marijuana sales in the wake of operations that resulted in the disproportionate arrests of black people.
Police Chief Medaria Arradondo announced the new policy at the direction of Mayor Jacob Frey. The Star Tribune reported the change follows a report prepared by the Hennepin County public defender's office that said 46 of 47 people arrested in the sting operations from Jan. 24 to May 24 were black. Almost all the cases involved the sale of 1 to 2 grams of marijuana for $10 to $20, said the report, which was filed in court last week to challenge the arrests.
Arradondo, the city's first black police chief, said at a news conference that police were trying to reduce downtown crime.
"While the intention was good, it had an unintended consequence," he said.
The chief said the new policy applies to the entire city. Police will still make other marijuana-related arrests as long as the drug remains illegal in the city.
Frey told Arradondo that he wanted an end to undercover operations aimed specifically at marijuana sales.
"I believe strongly that marijuana should be a lowest level enforcement priority and that it should be fully legalized at the state level," the mayor said in a statement. "That support for full legalization, however, does not negate the need for our officers to make the necessary arrests to get guns off our streets and end the sale of life-threatening narcotic drugs like heroin."
Hennepin County Chief Public Defender Mary Moriarty said that she called Frey last week to tell him about the racial disparities in arrests, and he promised the arrests would stop.
Hennepin County Attorney Mike Freeman said in a statement that his office has already handled a fourth of the 47 cases by dismissing the charges, sending the defendants to a diversion program or asking for stays that would result in no sentences with the charges reduced to misdemeanors. He said his office was in the process of dismissing charges against the remaining defendants.
The report, by Assistant Public Defender Jess Braverman, said the arrests had "resulted in felony convictions for numerous black defendants who had been targeted, and all the devastating collateral consequences that go along with such convictions: jail time, prison time, and even deportation proceedings."
New York City's police department is also overhauling its marijuana arrest policies. Saying the government's war on marijuana has hit minorities too hard, Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance Jr. said last month that his office would stop prosecuting people for simple possession or public use of the drug as of Aug. 1. Brooklyn's district attorney also said he would scale back prosecutions.
Information from: Star Tribune, http://www.startribune.com