Bratton: City will defend officers on marijuana arrests

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Bill Bratton. (AP Photo/Bebeto Matthews)
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Police commissioner Bill Bratton told reporters on Wednesday that the city is prepared to defend any officers who might be sued for pursuing marijuana arrests in Brooklyn, after the borough's district attorney said his office would no longer prosecute some first-time offenders.

“The city attorney has assured us that if the officers were operating within the scope of the law, which we would automatically assume they were, that they would be basically defended by the city,” Bratton said in Queens this afternoon.

Referring to the new policy from Brooklyn district attorney Ken Thompson, Bratton said, “it really does not change the working circumstances of police officers who are in the field.”

Mayor Bill de Blasio, an ally of Thompson who today called Bratton the “finest police commissioner in the world,” said he agreed with both of their positions.

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“I think it’s important to understand the specifics here and I think have not been necessarily portrayed accurately in the public discourse,” de Blasio said when asked about the new marijuana prosecution policy in Brooklyn, his home borough. The mayor repeatedly referred to officers having “discretion” when encountering members of the public, which, he said, was applicable to this issue.

“What I think District Attorney Thompson is trying to achieve is to try and make sure that our energies go to serious crime and to not focus on the most minor offenses,” de Blasio said. “But to make sure at all times and I think he’s been quite explicit about this, that there is full officer discretion. In the end, in each moment where a police office encounters a citizen is individual and officers must use their discretion. And there is absolute consistency in the district attorney’s position.”

De Blasio also said the NYPD is in agreement with his and Thompson’s overall desire to pivot the focus of the city’s law enforcement community to more pressing matters.

“In terms of the NYPD, look at the numbers: the lowest level of marijuana arrests are down, and there’s constant and obvious devotion to officer discretion in all matters,” de Blasio said. “The lowest level marijuana arrests are down and the focus is on serious crime, as it should be.”

Yesterday, the New York State director of the Drug Policy Alliance told Capital there was no difference in the arrest rate from the de Blasio and Bratton administration, compared to the predecessor, Michael Bloomberg and Ray Kelly.

De Blasio and Bratton spoke to reporters after swearing in a new class of 944 police recruits at Queens College. Among the recruits is one of the sons of Patrick Lynch, president of the Patrolmen Benevolent’s Association.