In 2018, Miami-area police arrested more people for possessing small amounts of marijuana than they did the prior two years — even though leaders have urged them to issue tickets for the offense. Year-end booking data, published online by the county’s Department of Corrections, shows that last year, 2,107 people were arrested and primarily charged with possession of less than 20 grams. That’s 78 more arrests than in 2017 and 335 more than in 2016.
In 2015, Miami-Dade commissioners approved a measure to allow cops to issue civil citations in lieu of arrests for misdemeanors such as possession of a few joints, possession of stolen shopping carts, and trespassing. Although many police departments signed on to the civil citation program — including the Miami department last September — officers continue to send people to jail for something now legal in ten states and Washington, D.C.
Neither Miami nor Miami-Dade Police responded to requests for comment on the data, which is not broken down by department.
In August, a New Times investigation found that low-level marijuana arrests are almost always dismissed by state prosecutors, meaning police officers take the time to stop, search, arrest, book, transport people to jail, and fill out paperwork for charges that are usually dropped. Arrestees, meanwhile, often spend the night in jail, post bail, show up to court, and face the collateral consequences of having an arrest on their record. This can make it more difficult to obtain jobs or housing.
Police forces do utilize the civil citation option, but mostly for white people. Data obtained by New Times in August found 72 percent of the 10,078 total citations for small amounts of pot went to white people.
Could police better use their time? Well, clearance rates (the percentage of reported crimes that lead to an arrest) in Miami-Dade County are the lowest of any county in the state, according to the latest midyear crime data. About 85 percent of all crimes reported in Miami-Dade go unsolved.
In the first six months of 2018, more people were arrested for possession of less than 20 grams of pot and trespassing (2,142) than for rape, murder, robbery, burglary, and motor vehicle theft (1,927).
While crime is trending downward in Miami-Dade County, the rate at which crimes are solved is also falling. Meanwhile, more people are being arrested for offenses that have essentially been decriminalized.
And police are still arresting people — mostly homeless — for possession of a stolen shopping cart and unlawful use of a dairy crate, two offenses that can also be handled with tickets instead. Just two days after Christmas, 27-year-old Maurice Kemp, whom the booking data lists as homeless, was arrested and charged with unlawful use of a dairy case. (Homeless people often sit on the discarded milk crates.) The case was dismissed by prosecutors, but police wasted time they might have spent pursuing criminals. And Kemp spent the night behind bars at taxpayer expense.