Racial disparities in marijuana arrests have more to do with the neighborhoods where Louisville Metro Police focuses its attention than with race, Chief Steve Conrad says.
He’s referring to an ACLU study from the summer that said African-Americans were 3.5 times likelier to be arrested for marijuana possession than Caucasians in Jefferson County—although marijuana use rates were similar regardless of race. Statewide, African-Americans were six-times likelier to be arrested on those charges.
Conrad spoke to WFPL’s Gabe Bullard on Wednesday during a news special.
You can hear the complete special below:
Louisville Metro Police focus on neighborhoods where they’re having problems with crime, Conrad says. And if an officer sees illegal behavior, such as marijuana use or possession, they’ll take action.
“I think if any officer observes illegal behavior, he or she is going to make contact with that person and he or she would have discretion on whether or not to cite. I don’t believe that that would be based on race,” Conrad says. “The point I was making you have an opportunity to have more interactions with officers in neighborhoods where we have more officers because we’re experiencing more problems.
“I don’t know that I’m necessarily focused in on the disparity as much as I want to make sure we are focused in on addressing problems in our community,” he adds later. “My goal is to make Louisville safer today than yesterday and safer than it was last year. Our focus is trying to have officers in the neighborhoods where we’re experiencing the biggest problems.”
He notes that most marijuana-related violations result in a citation instead of an arrest.
In response, ACLU of Kentucky spokeswoman Amber Duke says, “We maintain that the war on drugs (including the war on marijuana) has failed with devastating consequences. Enforcement of marijuana possession laws has drawn hundreds of thousands of people into the criminal justice system, primarily young people of color for nonviolent activities.
“This type of law enforcement is a waste of precious law enforcement time, money and resources,” she adds.
On a related note, Conrad says he’s wary of legalized marijuana.
Several states have decriminalized marijuana or legalized the drug for medicinal use.
He says he dealt with medicinal legalization when he was chief of Glendale, Ariz., police. He says crime issues brought about by legalization are “challenging.”
As for Kentucky, he says he believes marijuana can lead to other issues.
“I believe that it has the potential, in some people, to lead to other problems, and I think anything we can do that would keep from leading to problems is probably a better course of action,” Conrad says. “But again, it’s not our job to make the laws—it’s our job to enforce them.”