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," Miami Police Chief Jorge 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 says officers are 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 fewer than 20 grams of pot have increased every year since the county approved a law in 2015 allowing police officers to issue civil citations in lieu of arrest for certain misdemeanors. 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 racial disparity.
After Colina told New Times he had been working on enacting the citation policy 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 they catch a person with small amounts of weed.
I've been in charge for 7 months. Our arrest are at record lows. My policy will make it a citation (removing discretion) for the first 2 violations to mitigate any disparity issues. https://t.co/KugVJ6LB6Y— Jorge Colina (@Jcolina67) September 10, 2018
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 first and second offenses.
Still, Colina says he has instructed his officers to do just that. He said on the phone that the directive is written in the policy, but the copy of the policy New Times obtained does not reflect that. 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."
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An extra step outlined in the city's citation policy requires officers to document in the narrative portion of the arrest form their reasons for arresting an individual who could have been given a citation instead.
Colina says if officers do arrest a person eligible for a citation, they must explain the circumstances that led to that decision; for example, if the person arrested with pot matches the description of someone they are seeking 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 fewer than 20 grams of pot, and possession of drug paraphernalia (such as a grinder or bowl).