Even though marijuana use in California was formally legalized recently, it’s still against the law to use it in public per the California Health and Safety Code at §11362.3. And apparently Lolita Lopez, investigative reporter at NBCLA, is doing a story on how this plays out in Los Angeles, because on February 2, 2019 she filed a CPRA request with the City for a list of citations under this law from 2016 to the present. Her request was successful, and a few days later the LAPD handed over this spreadsheet, organized by reporting district.1
And public marijuana use is one of those laws that’s custom-made for differential enforcement against homeless people. Thus it occurred to me to take a look at this data in conjuction with BIDs, which are one of the main engines of differential enforcement in Los Angeles. And the data revealed something really interesting. There were 887 citations in the two years covered by the data. Of these citations, 645 occurred in only 6 reporting districts, which precisely cover the Hollywood Entertainment District BID. Also 71 occurred in two others, which precisely cover the Venice Beach BID. The other 171 were spread out pretty evenly across the whole rest of the City.
This means that 72.7% of all citations for public marijuana use in the entire City of Los Angeles since 2016 were issued in the Hollywood Entertainment District BID. And 8% were issued in the Venice Beach BID. It doesn’t take any kind of fancy statistical analysis to prove that this is a really significant result, almost certainly linked to Kerry Morrison and her BID’s well-known tactic of arresting every homeless person that they can lay their hands on for the most trivial possible matters, such as drinking in public or urinating in public. Evidently now we can add smoking marijuana in public to this list of homeless-criminalizing tactics employed by the BID.
The HPOA BID Patrol is famous for its aggressive arrest policies. In 2013 they were responsible for more than 7% of the arrests of homeless people in the entire City of Los Angeles. Their arrest rate has dropped precipitously in the last few years, but it is still unbelievably high. But since 2016 they have refused to provide data on their individual arrests in response to CPRA requests, so it hasn’t been possible to tell who they were arresting and why.2
However, each arrest that the BID Patrol makes results in some kind of action by the LAPD. And given that the LAPD doesn’t seem to expend much effort in arresting anyone for public marijuana use outside the BID, it’s not unreasonable to assume that these figures are a proxy for the BID’s interest in the differential enforcement of this law. If they’re not making these arrests themselves then the arrests are the result of some BID policy.
The situation in Venice is a little less clear, as the Venice Beach BID only started its security work sometime in 2017, and the Boardwalk is a likely place for the LAPD to practice its own style of selective enforcement without needing a BID to encourage it. But the moral of the story is still very clear. It’s illegal to smoke marijuana in public in Los Angeles, but effectively it’s illegal only if you’re homeless and only if you’re in the Hollywood BID. Turn the page for maps and charts!
Of course we start with a histogram, and this revealed something really interesting, which is that out of 1,135 reporting districts, only 96 of them had any citations at all, and more than 80% of the citations were concentrated in only 8 reporting districts: 636, 637, 645, 646, 647, 666, 1412, and 1431. See the histogram below and, naturally, click to enlarge.
And take a look at these screenshots from the LA Times interactive reporting district map. First we have the six reporting districts listed above, which account for 645 of the citations. Next find the same map but with the BID superimposed on it.3
And for the sake of completeness, even though the meaning is less clear, here are the other two significant reporting districts, both of which are in Venice:
Image of Kerry Morrison is ©2019 MichaelKohlhaas.org and then there’s this Kerry Morrison too, folks.
- Reporting districts are the smallest scale LAPD subdivision. There’s a really useful interactive map of them at the Los Angeles Times.
- Getting hold of this information is one of the purposes of my CPRA suit against the LAPD, who also refuses to tell me who the BID Patrol is arresting.
- There’s a slightl complication here. The Hollywood Entertainment District BID renewed in 2019, and the boundaries shown are for the new BID. The bulk of the data is from before that. However, this doesn’t change the analysis, because prior to 2019 there were two BIDs, the Entertainment District and the Sunset-Vine BID. They merged at renewal, but before then they shared the same security vendor, which was overseen by a joint security committee. So at least with respect to security the two BIDs were functioning as one for the entire time span of the data. I obtained this map of the new BID from the engineer’s report they filed with the City as part of their renewal process.