Village police following Nassau’s lead on marijuana arrests

Village police following Nassau’s lead on marijuana arrests
The Nassau County Police Department's Third Precinct headquarters in Williston Park. (Courtesy of NCPD)

New York City may be easing its prosecution and arrests for marijuana possession, but Nassau County and some village police on the North Shore say they intend to continue enforcing the laws as they are.

Nassau County Police Commissioner Patrick Ryder, in a statement sent to Newsday, said it is the county police’s job to enforce the laws.

“The law in place is the law we enforce,” Ryder said.

Two village police departments that responded to requests for comment echoed that sentiment.

Old Westbury Police Chief Robert Glaser said that marijuana possession is both “sporadic” and “unpredictable” in Old Westbury, which is home to more than 4,000 people, but “not a tremendous problem at this point.”

But the village police intend to keep enforcing the law.

“Until we hear differently from the Nassau [district attorney]’s office, we will continue to enforce the laws as we always have,” Glaser said, noting that the police follow penal law for guidelines for each charge. “As of right now, we have no plans to change that.”

Glaser added that security staff at Westbury High School and the Wheatley School do a “good job” of keeping marijuana away from teenagers.

George Banville, the chief of the Kings Point Police Department, said his community – with an estimated population of 5,140, according to the 2016 American Community Survey – is very residential, has no storefronts and that marijuana possession is something “we just don’t come across.”

But if it were something the police were to encounter, Banville said officers would enforce the laws.

“We’re going to enforce the law, whatever it is, and we’re going to follow whatever the DA’s office wants to do with it,” Banville said.

The Floral Park Police Department, Port Washington Police District, Lake Success Police Department, Great Neck Estates Police Department, Sands Point Police Department and Kensington Police Department did not return requests for comment.

New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio had called on the NYPD to make changes to marijuana enforcement policies and told NY1 on Monday that he plans to officially direct the Police Department to issue summonses rather than arrest people smoking in public.

Manhattan District Attorney Cy Vance, citing a racial disparity in arrests, said he planned to stop prosecuting marijuana possession cases.

“The dual mission of the Manhattan DA’s Office is a safer New York and a more equal justice system,” Vance said in a statement. “The ongoing arrest and criminal prosecution of predominantly black and brown New Yorkers for smoking marijuana serves neither of these goals.”

Brooklyn District Attorney Eric Gonzalez also signaled an intent to relax prosecutions, saying in a news release that he believes “low level marijuana cases should be responded to with summonses rather than arrests” and that the DA’s office has started to decline prosecuting certain cases.

According to a Newsday investigation, Nassau County also sees a disparity in arrests: between 2005 and 2016, about 60 percent of marijuana possession arrests in Nassau were of minority members and 62 percent of felony charges were levied against blacks and Hispanics, while 85 percent of misdemeanor cases involved white people.

Amelia Camurati contributed reporting.

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