Durham pot-bust rate below average, paper finds

Aug. 02, 2014 @ 09:22 PM

National statistics indicate police and sheriff’s deputies in Durham County arrested people for marijuana possession in 2012 less frequently than was the norm elsewhere in the country or even in North Carolina.

Durham law enforcement recorded about 153 possession arrests per 100,000 residents, less than the national average of about 198 arrests per 100,000, according to an analysis by the Washington Post.
The Durham arrest rate was lower than that of many of the state’s urban counties.
Authorities in neighboring Wake Country recorded about 210 pot-possession arrests per 100,000 residents.
In Mecklenburg County, home to Charlotte, the state’s largest city, authorities made nearly 244 possession arrests per 100,000 residents.
Arrests rates were even higher in Forsyth and Guilford counties, home respectively to Winston-Salem and Greensboro, cities Durham officials deem among those most comparable to their own.
Law enforcement in Forsyth County recorded about 435 possession arrests per 100,000 residents, and their counterparts in Guilford booked more than 637 per 100,000.
Among Durham’s near-peers, only Cumberland County recorded a significantly lower pot-possession arrest rate. Authorities in Fayetteville and other Cumberland communities recorded about 97 arrests per 100,000 residents in 2012.
Despite the figures, Durham’s city government faces pressure from interest groups like the Southern Coalition for Social Justice and the FADE Coalition to declare marijuana possession its lowest law-enforcement priority.
The groups singled out Durham because “we’re responsive to members of the communities that bring issues to us,” said Daryl Atkinson, a lawyer and Southern Coalition staffer.
He acknowledged that the groups haven’t mounted similar campaigns in Wake, Mecklenburg, Forsyth or Guilford counties.
Those are “not communities that we have strong partnerships with,” Atkinson said, adding that the groups “haven’t received” from them the same sort of complaints about excessive or racially disparate enforcement.
Atkinson added that the main concern remains that it appears Durham authorities arrest blacks more frequently for marijuana possession than they do whites. He noted the Washington Post analysis shed no light on that question, locally or nationally.
It did, however, make it clear what low-priority enforcement means.
In the continental United States, California and Massachusetts stood out for their low arrest rates, police and deputies in California’s Los Angeles County for example making a bit less than 25 possession busts per 100,000 residents.
California’s legislature voted in 2010 to make possession only a civil infraction, rather than a misdemeanor criminal offense. Decrimalization advocacy groups like NORML – that National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws – say the decision encouraged law-enforcement agencies to direct their attention elsewhere.
At the other end of the spectrum, New York state looked like the marijuana-arrest capital of the United States. Most of its counties recorded arrest rates like those of Forsyth and Guilford counties, that would be atypically high for North Carolina.
For instance, Albany County, home to New York’s state capital, saw about 446 possession arrests per 100,000 residents in 2012. New York County – Manhattan Island, the business center of New York City – saw about 804 arrests per 100,000 residents.
In Durham, City Manager Tom Bonfield is still weighing a package of recommendations the Human Relations Commission and the Civilian Police Review Board submitted in response to requests from the Southern Coalition and FADE.
The Human Relations Commission stopped short of endorsement the marijuana-enforcement-as-the-lowest priority idea, but said officials should study the example of other communities.
Bonfield has promised the City Council a report later this month.
The Washington Post analysis can be found on the Web at http://wapo.st/1rXglW7.