De Blasio Says Pot Arrest Reform Is 'a Natural Evolution'

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In the past, Mayor de Blasio has said the city was on the right track for dealing with marijuana arrests. (Barry Williams/for New York Daily News)

Asking the NYPD to overhaul its marijuana policies to address a massive racial disparity in who is arrested for using the drug isn't a reversal of past positions, Mayor de Blasio insisted Friday.

"I think the media tends to think of a lot of things as an about-face. That's a normal skeptical, healthy journalistic world view," de Blasio said at an unrelated Staten Island press conference. "I don't this one is. I think this is a natural evolution."

Hizzoner announced Tuesday that he'd asked the NYPD to spend 30 days coming up with a way to overhaul the city's marijuana arrest policies to address the fact that, while studies show people of all races use marijuana at similar rates, 86% of those arrested for it are black and Latino.

In the past, de Blasio has said the city was on the right track for dealing with marijuana arrests — which have fallen greatly overall following an order to issue summonses, rather than make arrests, for most possession cases — and has agreed with the NYPD's argument that it makes arrests where it receives complaints.

"I think what's happening now is very much moving in the right direction," he said in March, saying not just 311 calls but complaints to officers as part of neighborhood policing drove some arrests.

But data highlighted by the Daily News and others called into question that idea — finding little overlap between the neighborhoods with the most arrests and the most complaints to police. And on Monday, the mayor changed his tune a day before rolling out the new policy — saying the city hadn't gone far enough to address the disparity.

Friday, he said he still believes the city had made some progress.

"What is true at the same time is we continue to get different pieces of information that confirm a still too-high level of disparity. That is the point, the evolutionary point," he said. "I bluntly had hoped we would get more done. We haven't gotten enough done, we have to do something more."

Because of that, he said, he's asked the NYPD to find a new way forward.

Former police commissioner, Bill Bratton, took to Twitter Friday to argue the enforcement was complaint-based. (serdjophoto/Getty Images/iStockphoto)

"The idea of the 30 days is to say go back to the drawing board which the NYPD is really good at, innovating, and say OK, what should we do differently?" he asked. "If we like some of the outcomes we got but we don't like the arrest levels and we don't like the disparity, what can we do?"

De Blasio said he had not offered specific direction about what the new approach to marijuana arrests should be.

"I want the outcome," he said. "I respect the NYPD which has proven the ability to innovate to come up with the how. I have a mandate for them, I'm convinced they will figure out how to act on it."

But not everyone has evolved along with de Blasio. His former police commissioner, Bill Bratton, took to Twitter Friday to agree with an op-ed by Seth Barron that pushed back against allegations of racism and again argued the enforcement was complaint-based.

"It's cops responding to community complaints, primarily by people of color, about behavior that's illegal & annoying. A cheap shot to paint a majority minority NYPD as racist & unfairly targeting people of color when cops are responding to their complaints," he tweeted.

De Blasio said he understood his former top cop's position — saying some of the advocacy around the arrests "hasn't reflected the truth," and others have underplayed the reduction of arrests or the role of 311 calls.

"Unfortunately it feels like there's two opposite poles sometimes in this discussion and the truth is somewhere in between," de Blasio said. "Anyone who says that 311 calls don't have something to do with this is missing the reality of life in this city, because they have a lot to do with it. That said and despite a good thing a reduction of arrests which Commissioner Bratton had a lot to do with, we're just not where we need to be."