McCarthy offers plan to boost pot tickets, reduce arrests
BY FRAN SPIELMAN City Hall Reporter August 1, 2014 3:13PM
Chicago Police Supt. Garry McCarthy wants to tweak a city ordinance which he said has failed in its goal of reducing arrests for small amouns of marijuana. | Getty Images
Updated: September 3, 2014 6:13AM
Chicago Police Supt. Garry McCarthy said Friday he will recommend changes to the failed ordinance decriminalizing possession of small amounts of marijuana to free officers to write more tickets.
“There are some parameters we’re lightening up, which is going to lead to the issuance of more [tickets] vs. arrests because that’s the goal,” McCarthy told aldermen at a City Council hearing on the veracity of crime statistics.
“We don’t want to put people in jail for things they don’t need to go to jail for and we don’t want to take officers off the street at the same time. It’s doesn’t make sense for management.”
Two years ago, an emotionally torn City Council gave Chicago Police officers the option to issue $250-to-$500 tickets to anyone caught in Chicago with 15 grams of marijuana or less instead of arresting them.
But the more lenient treatment did not apply to those caught “openly smoking” pot or who possessed it on the grounds of a Chicago school or park. Young people under 17 and those of all ages without “proper identification” would also continue to be arrested.
On Friday, McCarthy said he wants to remove those impediments that have conspired to undermine the ordinance and hold down the number of tickets issued.
“More than a third of our [pot tickets] were not issued because people did not have a government ID. That was the largest category of why people were arrested” instead of merely ticketed, McCarthy said.
“We’re going to lighten up the type of identification that’s used so that we can issue more tickets. It doesn’t have to be a driver’s license or a state ID or a government-issued ID. It could be a school ID with verification from a relative or something like that. Something that can be verified in a department database.”
As for the park impediment, McCarthy said, “I believe that was implemented because we don’t want people hanging around parks where kids are playing smoking weed. Well, you can’t get it if you’re smoking it. It’s only if you’re possessing.”
The only arrest mandate the superintendent wants to keep is the one that applies to people caught in the act of smoking.
The Chicago Sun-Times reported last fall that the option to issue tickets for pot had been a bust, failing to hold down arrests and keep police officers on the street.
From Aug. 4, 2012, the day ticketing began, through Sept. 24, 2013, police issued just 1,117 tickets. Defendants were found liable in 832 of the 1,035 cases resolved — that’s 81 percent.
At the time, city hearing officers had assessed $310,755 in penalties, but only $67,256 — or 21 percent — of those fines had been collected. That’s a drop in the bucket compared with the $1 million that proponents had predicted the city would easily collect in just one year.
More important to Ald. Danny Solis (25th), the ordinance he had championed has come nowhere close to his goal of putting officers on the street for the equivalent of 2,500 additional eight-hour days.
Marijuana arrests were continuing — at a rate even higher than they were before the ticketing ordinance was passed — saddling young offenders, most of them black and Hispanic, with a criminal record that could haunt them for years.
Solis responded with a promise to revise the ordinance and remove impediments that made ticketing an “administrative pain in the butt,” as a now-former police union president put it.
McCarthy said Friday Solis has been “intimately involved” in crafting the proposed changes. That was clear from the alderman’s response.
“One of the reasons I introduced that legislation is because I wanted to get police officers more man-hours on the street,” Solis said.
“At the same time though, if we can catch the bad guys — the gang-bangers, the people who have the guns [and] we can use existing laws — whether it’s not wearing a seatbelt, having alcohol in the car or whether it’s possession of marijuana or smoking marijuana, then go after them.”
Ald. Pat O’Connor (40th), the mayor’s City Council floor leader, noted that the number of “administrative notices of violations” issued by Chicago Police officers is up 59 percent this year, even before the pot ticket impediments are removed — from 56,266 last year for quality-of-life offenses of all kinds to 89,695 this year.
“The [ticketing] program is really ramping up. And they would like the ability to reduce the number of instances where they can write” a ticket, O’Connor said.
“Based on what he said here today, it would make sense and keep more policemen on the street.”
According to Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s office, arrests for small amounts of marijuana through June 30 were down by 39 percent compared to the six-month period before the 2012 ordinance was implemented.
Still, the mayor “believes much more needs to be done so police officers can focus their time and energy on reducing gun violence in our communities,” according to an e-mailed statement from the mayor’s office that followed McCarthy’s testimony.