Oregon DA Likes FBI Arrest Stats, Unless They Support Marijuana

When is a FBI statistic for marijuana arrests in Oregon valid? When it suits Clatsop County District Attorney Josh Marquis’ political purposes.

The FBI produces a set of statistics known as the Uniform Crime Report, or UCR. It compiles information on arrests from city, county, and state police agencies nationwide.

These FBI statistics were used by the Portland City Club in its endorsement of the Measure 91 initiative on the ballot to legalize marijuana in Oregon. “The FBI’s Uniform Crime Reporting Program shows that in 2010 there were nearly 10,000 combined marijuana-related citations and arrests in Oregon (55% of all drug-related citations and arrests) and Oregon spent over $50,000,000 enforcing marijuana possession laws,” the majority opinion notes. “The marijuana-related numbers for 2012 were even higher, with 10,054 people cited and 2,754 arrested, for a total of 12,808.”

The Yes on Measure 91 campaign also cited the FBI UCR statistics in a “Myths vs. Facts” section of its campaign website:

“Myth:  Most of the statistics of marijuana ‘arrests and citations’ are simple citations. They are like speeding or not signaling the right way. They take very little resources.”

“Reality: More than half of the drug-related arrests made in Oregon are for marijuana. (Source: Oregon State Police, page 4-10). In 2012, the most recent year for which data is available, 21,856 people were arrested for drug crimes, and 12,808 of them were for marijuana.”

Politi-Fact Oregon jumped on the claim of 12,808 arrests for marijuana, rating it as “False.” This, despite the clear context of “arrests and citations.” The 91 Campaign relied on figures from the Oregon State Police, and Politi-Fact noted that the state police must fill in the FBI’s form that has “only one field for ‘arrested, cited, referred, or summoned.’” The 91 Campaign then modified their point to ensure everyone would know “police arrested and issued citations for 12,808 people for marijuana in 2012.”

Enter Josh Marquis. The Clatsop County DA is the de facto spokesperson for law enforcement’s opposition to Measure 91 legalization. In emails with Jennifer Alexander, Marquis expressed his outrage that the Yes on 91 Campaign would try to use the FBI UCR arrests numbers to bolster support for legalization:

The OREGONIAN called this claim what it is….FALSE, as in a lie intended to fooling people into believing that 10,000 Oregonians are being handcuffed, taken to jail, and ending up with a criminal record, when that is simply not true. … Nonetheless [Yes on 91 Communications Director Peter] Zuckerman continues using the claim.

When Alexander pressed Marquis on why the FBI UCR data continues to refer to all Oregon marijuana charges as “arrests” and further asks for where a reliable source of arrest data for Oregon can be found, Marquis responds (emphasis mine):

This is relevant here because this is OREGON, not some artificial box some bureaucrat at the FBI fills out. … The SOLE purpose for misrepresenting the number of people arrested…oops….cited…is to imply to voters that a huge swath of minor offenders are costing OREGON TAXPAYERS boatloads of money as they are slowly digested through the justice system from arrest to jail to court to trial to jail, prison, or probation … The UCR is far from the “most reliable indicator” of a lot of things because of GIGO (garbage in, garbage out). … The POLITIFACT answer, which I’m making sure you have, makes clear there are about 2000 marijuana ARRESTS annually.

Alexander then quibbles with Marquis’ interpretation the “about 2,000 arrests” figure, because if Marquis is dismissing the validity of the FBI UCR arrest numbers as a whole, he can’t then make definitive factual statements derived by subtracting one FBI UCR number from another.  Marquis doubles down on his stand that we cannot rely on FBI UCR numbers for arrest data:

There are valid uses for the FBI’s Uniform Crime Reports as long as you remember reporting and police staffing can have dramatic effects. For very serious crime, like homicides, the UCR is generally reliable. … I am passionate about intellectual honesty.

So, with such a passion for intellectual honesty, I was surprised this morning to see Josh Marquis citing FBI UCR arrest numbers like the gospel in today’s letter to the editor of the Oregonian regarding juvenile arrests in Oregon:

Funded by a private east coast think tank and juvenile advocacy group, the Annie E. Casey Foundation, Multnomah County has literally written the book on juvenile justice reform, becoming along the way a de facto teaching institute for juvenile justice. …

Unadvertised in any way, however, is the fact that Oregon’s juvenile crime problem has become so severe under our vaunted reform practices, that we now have the second highest arrest rate of juvenile drug crime in the nation, and the fifth highest rate of juvenile drug addiction. …

The policies that have produced this problem were hatched with the assistance of out-of-state advocacy groups, on the advice of self-styled “experts,” with little public awareness.

The link provided by Marquis leads to a report by the Clackamas County DA John Foote and retired Multnomah County DA Charles French. “They cite 2011 FBI and Oregon arrest figures that show the state has the second highest juvenile drug arrest rates in the nation and the 12th highest juvenile property crime arrest rates,” writes the Oregonian.

I spoke with Oregon criminal defense attorney Leland Berger who assured me that marijuana decriminalization applies to adults and minors. A minor caught in possession of less than an ounce of marijuana will not be arrested, he told me. I reached out to public information officers Lt. Hastings from the Oregon State Police and Sgt. Simpson from the Portland Police Bureau to confirm Berger’s assertion, but they had not returned my calls by press time.

In the FBI UCR’s Arrest Tables  (Table 69) for 2012, there were 18,929 adults and 2,514 juveniles arrested for “drug abuse violations.” That is the same data table from which the Yes on Measure 91 Campaign derived the 12,808 figure for marijuana arrests and citations; it would seem reasonable to assume the 2,514 juveniles also represented both arrests and citations.

Furthermore, while there were about five adult citations for every one adult marijuana arrest, according to figures even Marquis agrees with, it’s likely the ratio of juveniles being cited is even higher, since it is less likely the kids would be toting around more than an ounce of marijuana worthy of an arrest. And if Marquis is considering those 2,514 juvenile mostly-citations as being “the second highest arrest rate of juvenile drug crime in the nation,” isn’t he exhibiting the same sort of intellectual dishonesty he accused Peter Zuckerman of?

Hypocrisy bonus: While Marquis complains that “a private east coast think tank … produced this problem … with the assistance of out-of-state advocacy groups, on the advice of self-styled ‘experts,’ with little public awareness,” he is still steadfastly defending the Oregon Marijuana Education Summit, produced with the assistance of an out-of-state advocacy group called Project SAM (Smart Approaches to Marijuana ), which is a private east coast think tank founded by self-styled “experts,” Kevin Sabet and Patrick Kennedy, with little public awareness.

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