Miami Chief Bans Cops From Arresting People for Small Amounts of Weed on First and Second Offenses

Miami Chief Bans Cops From Arresting People for Small Amounts of Weed on First and Second Offenses
City of Miami Police
Last month, a New Times investigation found arrests for possession of small amounts of pot have actually risen each year since Miami-Dade commissioners passed an ordinance giving cops leeway to hand out citations instead. Even worse, data suggested most civil citations were handed to white people, while police continued to arrest hundreds of black people for the same offense.

The Miami Police Department, meanwhile, never bothered to begin issuing citations at all even though city leaders signed off on the plan in February 2017. Now, MPD Chief Jorge Colina says he's not only implementing the policy but also ordering his officers to issue citations the first and second times a person is caught with small amounts of weed.

Colina announced his policy, which goes a step further than any other police department in Miami-Dade County, after filmmaker Billy Corben pushed him on Twitter about MPD's delays in starting the plan:
New Times asked Colina for more details about his policy and a written directive to his officers, but he didn't immediately respond. His directive might not be finalized until the program begins at the end of September.

The countywide policy dates to 2015 and covers seven minor offenses, including loitering and possession of a milk crate, a charge often used against homeless people. Local municipalities must sign off on the plan, which City of Miami commissioners did in February 2017. But Colina's predecessor, then-Chief Rudy Llanes, apparently never put the policy into place. 

Now, Colina's decision to take away his officers' leeway in deciding whether to issue citations or to arrest suspects makes MPD's policy the most progressive in the county.

The Miami-Dade Police Department actually encourages officers to arrest people for those minor offenses if they've been previously arrested or cited. Miami Beach PD, meanwhile, arrests anyone caught with small amounts of marijuana in a car — even if they're a passenger.

By the end of this month, Colina says, MDP will begin issuing 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).

"We're starting small, and then we'll grow it depending on how it goes," Colina says. The department decided not to include loitering or prowling and trespassing on the list of citable offenses because officials are concerned those could be precursors to more serious crimes.

"We don't want to limit somebody's opportunities," the chief says of the idea behind the citation program.
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Meg O'Connor is a freelance journalist for Miami New Times. She moved to Miami from New York after earning a master's degree in investigative journalism from Columbia University. She previously worked for CNN's Investigative Unit.
Contact: Meg O'Connor