CHICAGO | A Chicago alderman who predicted that an ordinance allowing police to ticket people caught with small amounts of marijuana would bring in as much as $7 million wants to know why after 14 months the city has collected less than $70,000.
Alderman Danny Solis said that he plans to meet Monday with Police Superintendent Garry McCarthy to ask whether officers are properly enforcing the ordinance.
"I want to give them the benefit of the doubt, (but) that's what it appears to be, that they're doing things the old way," he said Friday.
On Friday, the Chicago Sun-Times reported that the police department had issued just 1,117 tickets for small amounts of marijuana and that while city hearing officers have assessed $310,755 in penalties, only $67,256 has been collected.
The figures stand in stark contrast with what Solis and city officials, including McCarthy, suggested would happen as they pushed for the ordinance that allows officers to write tickets for $250 to $500 for possession of as much as 15 grams of marijuana instead of making arrests. Not only would the ordinance mean more money for the cash-strapped city, but it would mean thousands more police officer hours spent on the street combating serious crime.
"That's the more important issue: that it would free up police officers to stay on the streets," said Solis. He said the department has fallen far short of his goal of putting officers on the street for the equivalent of 2,500 additional eight-hour days, or about 20,000 hours — a figure that McCarthy suggested was reasonable last year before the ordinance was passed.
But department spokesman Adam Collins said that statistics show that officers are not simply ignoring the ordinance. He pointed to statistics that show officers have made 1,200 fewer arrests for possession of 15 grams or less of marijuana between January and early August than they did for the same period last year, a 21 percent drop.
Collins said the drop in arrests has saved the department about 3,860 hours.
"It is important to remember when you look at the data is that there are still circumstances in which arrests are mandatory," he added. Officers are prohibited from issuing tickets to people caught in parks or those who are in the act of smoking, he said. Also, police must still arrest people who have an outstanding arrest warrant or cannot produce valid state identification.
Collins also said the department is continuing to evaluate how to better enforce the ordinance.