Phew! One Less Air Freshener Peddler Off the Streets!
I am not against the police, or having a police force. However, after finishing a misdemeanor arraignment shift last night at 1:30 a.m., it was difficult (as it always is) not to scratch my head (or pull my hair out) over certain police decisions to arrest, detain, and process various people.
Here are just some of the arrests made by police officers on Friday and Saturday, arrests which resulted in the arrestees spending two days in jail before being brought before a judge Sunday night:
A father with no criminal record selling air fresheners to passing motorists without a vendor's license.
A woman with no criminal record selling counterfeit DVDs on the subway for $5.
A 17-year-old girl with no criminal record in possession of one bag of marijuana.
A man also in possession of one bag of marijuana (discovered after an unconstitutional search), but with a criminal record, who pled guilty to a misdemeanor primarily in order to get out of jail (which added to his criminal record and suspended his driver's license for 6 months) and received a sentence (in addition to the 48 hours of incarceration) of two days of community service (8-hour days cleaning the subways, parks, or highways) and one day of counseling. Again, that was for one bag of marijuana.
A manager of a store who sold one beer to a woman under the age of 21 without asking for her identification.
A young man with no criminal record who stole $12 of food from a bodega.
A man who drives a Good Humor Ice Cream truck whose driver's license had been suspended recently for failing to pay one ticket.
Each of these people was handcuffed, detained, held for around two days, and brought before a judge.
Each arrest takes up valuable time, whether it be the correction officer's, the lawyer's, the judge's, or the police officer's (though it often generates overtime pay for them, which is perhaps one reason for such arrests), slowing down the criminal justice system, forcing more people to spend more time waiting to see a judge, and taking the police away from dealing with serious crime. Every arrest carries with it the chance of severe collateral consequences for the individual arrested, consequences that usually far outweigh the gravity of the alleged offense (including loss of employment, housing, deprivation of medication, child care dilemmas, and deportation). Each arrest also costs the city, and hence its residents, money.
Surely our tax dollars (and our time) could be better spent, and our police force more intelligently employed, than by arresting, detaining, and arraigning someone for trying to sell air fresheners on the street or for possessing one bag of marijuana. I am confident that in such cases our resources could be distributed more effectively, and we could avoid placing so many people in such precarious situations, without jeopardizing the safety of the community.