Miami Police Department’s Written Pot Policy Contradicts Chief’s Statements

by / 0 Comments / 5 View / November 1, 2018

More than a year and a half after the City of Miami signed an agreement to arrest fewer people caught with small amounts of pot, the Miami Police Department may finally be following through.

“We told all our officers: issue the citation in the first two offenses unless there are exigent circumstances, and if there are, document them,” Colina said in a phone interview this week with New Times.

But the written policy itself seems to contradict Colina’s words. On September 25, the City of Miami finally sent out a standard operating procedure detailing the program — and the policy never once says officers will be required to hand out citations for the first and second offense.

“We are absolutely still requiring our officers to give out citations for the first two offenses,” Colina said when asked about the discrepancy in the written policy.

This past September, a New Times investigation revealed that arrests for possession of less than 20 grams of pot have increased every year since the county approved a law allowing police officers to issue civil citations in lieu of arrest for certain minor misdemeanors in 2015. New Times also found that most of the Miami-Dade Police Department’s citations for pot went to white people, while black people were more often arrested. In the city, Colina proposed removing officer discretion from the policy in an effort to mitigate any racial disparity.

After Colina told New Times he had been working on getting the citation policy up and running since becoming chief earlier this year, he promised on Twitter to take his department’s policy a step further. In response to tweets from filmmaker Billy Corben, Colina said he would order his officers to issue citations the first and second times a person is caught with small amounts of weed.

But the four-page document outlining the city’s citation policy doesn’t mention removing officer discretion or requiring officers to hand out civil citations for the first and second offenses.

Still, Colina says he has instructed his officers hand out citations for the first and second offenses. Colina said on the phone that that detail was spelled out in writing in the policy, but the copy of the policy obtained by New Times does not reflect that. When asked about the discrepancy, Colina said that perhaps the language could be updated.

“We want to be open minded and not ruin somebody’s life because they had a bit of pot,” he said.

On the first page of the citation policy, it does say: “City of Miami police officers have limited discretionary authority if the violator is eligible for the issuance of a civil citation in lieu of physical arrest.”

One extra step outlined in the City of Miami’s citation policy requires police officers to document their reasons for arresting an individual instead of giving them a citation in the narrative portion of the arrest form if that individual was eligible for a citation but was arrested instead.

Colina says that if officers do choose to make an arrest when they could issue a citation instead, they must explain the pressing circumstances that led them to that decision, for example, if the person arrested with pot matched the description of someone they were looking for for a more serious crime.

The policy, signed by Assistant Chief of Police Manuel Morales, goes on to state that “officers encountering violators committing any of the following misdemeanors may issue a City of Miami, Civil Violation Notice form (“Civil Citation”). While an officer may exercise discretion and issue a Civil Citation in lieu of arrest, these offenses are still misdemeanor crimes and violators are subject to arrest.”

Officers will now be able, but not required, to issue civil citations for these five offenses: littering, illegal use of a dairy crate, possession of a stolen shopping cart, possession of less than 20 grams of pot, and possession of drug paraphernalia (such as a grinder or bowl).

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