How Some Cities Are Experimenting With Reducing Minor Arrests


Seattle's political leadership has moved to rein in police tactics and cut down on prosecutions for minor crimes. Kathleen O'Toole,who became head of the 1,350-officer police force in June, has visited some of her department's stations to deliver an unusual message: It's OK to arrest people who violently break the law, the Wall Street Journal reports. Many police officers have chafed at the restrictions. Earlier this year, one officer cited dozens of people for smoking marijuana in public.” Rates of serious crime have started to tick up. Out of the contentious debate about police tactics has emerged what Seattle is doing, the joint brainchild of civil-rights activists and law-enforcement officials. The three-year-old program gives beat officers the option of diverting offenders into social-service programs rather than the criminal courts.

Other locales are trying similar experiments. In Durham County, N.C., prosecutors, defense attorneys, police and judges are working to give youthful first-time offenders an option other than adult court and a criminal record. Authorities in New York, Philadelphia and some other cities have backed away from making arrests for minor pot possession. Milwaukee Police Chief Edward Flynn told officers to limit searches in traffic stops that in the past produced arrests. The collateral consequences of a conviction—which can include difficulty in getting a job, scholarship or loan years later—are “definitely on our radar screen,” said Steven Jansen, vice president of the Association of Prosecuting Attorneys. “In the end, we have to ask, 'Is this fair?' “

Comments are closed.