New York City cops are arresting far more people for drugs under Mayor Eric Adams—reversing what had previously been a long decline.
Mayor Adams (D) claims his strategy is bringing down crime rates that spiked during the pandemic. But experts say there’s no connection, and point to how arrests overwhelmingly target Black and Brown residents.
When Mayor Adams took office in January 2022, the New York City Police Department (NYPD) was making an average of 740 drug arrests per month. As of June 2023, that number had shot up to 1,360—an 84 percent increase, according to NYPD data analyzed by Gothamist.
“We have a mayor who has used what are dog-whistle politics to sound the alarm on crime in a way that is profoundly misleading.”
“We have a mayor who has used what are dog-whistle politics to sound the alarm on crime in a way that is profoundly misleading,” Megan French-Marcelin, senior New York State policy director at the Legal Action Center nonprofit, told Filter. “But [it] also gives free reign to the police to return to a ‘broken windows’ [strategy] where they’re arresting folks on very minor [charges] and very low-level drug offenses. We have known for years this doesn’t work or provide more public safety, and doesn’t make communities feel safer.”
Among the five boroughs, Manhattan saw the most arrests overall in the 18-month period covered by the data, peaking at 441 in March. Arrests more than doubled in Queens and in Brooklyn. Staten Island had fewer arrests than the other boroughs, though arrests there still nearly doubled. And while both misdemeanor and felony arrests soared citywide, the exception was the Bronx, where misdemeanor arrests drove the increase. Nearly all drug prosecutions in the Bronx—94 percent—were of Black or Latinx residents, who together make up 85 percent of the borough’s population.
Under Mayor Adams, there has been a corresponding rise in police “stop and frisks”—a tactic that was ruled unconstitutional by a federal court back in 2013. Reporting by Gothamist found that 95 percent of all stops target people of color.
While the arrests data don’t show breakdowns by drug classes, French-Marcelin pointed to the increasing crackdown on fentanyl at state and national levels, and cited New York Governor Kathy Hochul’s (D) increased funding for pursuing fentanyl criminal cases in the latest state budget.
“We’ve seen that this kind of prosecution and sentencing doesn’t lead to any less drug use or overdose, but simply criminalizes primarily Black and Brown drug users.”
“There were outlays for fentanyl possession and distribution,” French-Marcelin said. “This was concerning because it mimics other drug laws that have taken a draconian approach to dealing with the proliferation of drugs in communities—and we’ve seen that this kind of prosecution and sentencing doesn’t lead to any less drug use or overdose, but simply criminalizes primarily Black and Brown drug users and low-level drug dealers at the expense of … infrastructure for drug treatment and harm reduction.”
The data demonstrate how the Adams administration is reversing a dramatic decline in New York drug arrests over more than a decade. Arrests for all drug types in New York City fell from over 107,800 in 2009 to under 23,000 in 2019, as Vice reported—a decrease of almost 80 percent. Convictions also fell over the same period. The decrease was even greater for specific populations, like people under 21.
A number of factors help explain this decline. Mayor Bill de Blasio took steps to reduce low-level marijuana arrests in 2018. The Manhattan and Brooklyn district attorneys also chose to not prosecute or reduce penalties for cannabis (which the state subsequently legalized in 2021). There was also less use of the draconian charge of selling drugs “in or near school grounds,” which carried a maximum sentence of 25 years.
Additionally, as Vice noted, decades of community-led activism to reject the drug war resulted in victories like the 2009 repeal of the harsh 1973 Rockefeller drug laws. Statewide, this ended mandatory minimum sentences for many felony drug charges.
Another major victory came in 2013, when a federal court ruled that the city’s stop-and-frisk policy was illegal, violating people’s Fourth Amendment right against unreasonable search and seizure, and their Fourteenth Amendment equal protection right.
Mayor Adams has stated that stop-and-frisk could be a helpful tactic.
Stop-and-frisk had ramped up during the 2002-2013 administration of Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who appointed Raymond Kelly as police commissioner. Stops increased 600 percent from 2002-2011, when police made a record of over 685,700 such stops. The practice then, as now, was severely discriminatory; 84 percent of people stopped were Black or Latinx. And 88 percent of people stopped were not arrested or given a summons. Police were profiling Black and Brown residents, subjecting them to humiliation and trauma, when less than 2 percent of all stops resulted in drugs or weapons being confiscated.
Stop-and-frisks fell during Bloomberg’s last year in office, and declined dramatically under Mayor Bill de Blasio, although they remained racist. But Mayor Adams—before and after winning election—has stated that stop-and-frisk could be a helpful tactic for police, saying, “if used properly, it could reduce crime without infringing on personal liberties and human rights.”
“The question should not be whether or not police are allowed to confront suspects; it should be about how we train them,” he said. “The question should not be whether we have police; it should be how we use them.”
Eighteen months into Adams’ tenure, according to Gothamist, the NYPD has made tens of thousands of pedestrian stops because people “fit a relevant description” or simply for the stated reason “other.”
While still well below the level of the Bloomberg era, these stops have now reached their highest level since 2015. Police have reportedly been ordered to make more low-level summonses—even as federal officials find nearly a quarter of Adams’ new “Neighborhood Safety Teams” are making illegal stops.