De-Prioritizing Drug Law Enforcement

Mark of New Jersey

Mark is a Founding Editor of The League of Ordinary Gentlemen, the predecessor of Ordinary Times.

Related Post Roulette

50 Responses

  1. Jaybird says:

    There’s a lot more money in drugs. Good cops get a piece of the money through drug asset seizure and forfeiture. Bad cops get a piece of the money through bribes to look the other way or help out by “enforcing the law” against competition. If it were made legal, why… it’d be like when Prohibition went away. There would not only be less money but less *CRIME* which means more job insecurity.

    For those in positions of police authority, there are too many upsides to continue the drug war as is and too many downsides to even starting down the road to repeal Prohibition 2.0.Report

    • Jaybird in reply to Jaybird says:

      Oh, I should have said, “dude, I love this post and totally see it as a step in the right direction! You should run for something!”Report

  2. Jivatman says:

    Sadly, does majority does, in fact, support the war on drugs, just like majority supported prohibition, gays as second-class citizens, etc.

    About time we stopped worshiping democracy as anything other than the least-worst way to select leaders and for once, give individual liberty a chance.Report

  3. Trumwill says:

    Outstanding post! I’ve had a difficult time expressing how I can be skeptical of widespread decriminalization and yet also be against the War on Drugs as it is currently being fought. I realize that we disagree on the former, but you articulate well how one can be against The War but not in favor of decriminalization. Outstanding.

    My sense is that if the quantity of drugs is small enough that it can be flushed down the toilet in under 60 seconds, it’s not major enough an operation that it was worth a SWAT invasion. If we force quantities to be kept that small, I can live with that. Their punishment is the loss of their stash. It’s the largescale distributors that I am mostly interested in.Report

  4. greginak says:

    Great post. I might just add that I’m not sure drug offenses are treated more seriously because of the federal interest. My guess is drug offenses are cleaner and more simple since you have a bag or brick of evidence, something solid and tangible. Drugs users , i wouild guess, are a lot easier to interrogate and flip then a rapist or stone cold murderer. There is no he said/ she said like in some rape cases or tenuous circumstantial evidence.

    I’m more then ready to skeptical of cops, but they want to feel competent and effective at what they do like everybody else. Addicts are generally not the sharpest knives in the tool shed so they are easier to catch.Report

  5. Rufus says:

    There’s a difference between legalization and decriminalization though. With decriminalization, there can still be penalties- say a fine and time in rehab- without having to treat people like dangerous criminals for putting things in their bodies that aren’t good for them.Report

  6. Will says:

    I just caught this, and I thought it was noteworthy given the discussion:

    The Safe American Stocks to Own If Europe Crisis Grows

    3. Corrections Corporation of America (NYSE: CXW – News). As its most recent earnings show, business in the jail business is booming. The market thinks so. The stock trades near its 52-week high. And, its sales are almost all in the U.S.


  7. North says:

    Great post Mark. It’s going to take a lot of shoving to roll our behemoth of a culture over to the point where our craven political class is willing to stick their necks out and change the drug laws. Best we all get pushing.Report

  8. Question: If the police stop drug raids and take a mostly hands-off approach to drugs, will it reduce inner city violence or the ancillary crimes associated with drug use (theft, etc)?

    My point here is that there might be a perception that the police are abandoning the law-abiding citizens of these communities. Maybe it’s a small part of the forces at work, but I do believe that a portion of the pressure on police forces comes from civic leaders themselves. There’s a certain desperation to stop drug use and the police are asked to play a role in prevention.Report

    • Scott in reply to Mike at The Big Stick says:

      @Mike at The Big Stick,

      Of course it won’t stop crime in the inner cities. Police can’t win either way. The minority residents complain that police don’t stop crime in their areas but when police do try to stop crime, those same people either won’t provide information to the police or they complain that polices are targeting minorities.Report

    • @Mike at The Big Stick, There does not seem to be any evidence that the law-abiding citizens of these communities support the aggressive enforcement of drug laws. There is also no evidence to suggest that the aggressive enforcement of drug laws prevents violence from being even worse. The violent side effects associated with drug use are entirely, purely, and exclusively the result of the black market created by making drugs illegal.

      The decision to prioritize drug law enforcement equates to a de-prioritization of enforcement of laws against violent crime and property crime. Indeed, one of the most common complaints that you hear about the police in the inner cities is that they barely respond at all to complaints about property crime and don’t even have the resources to adequately investigate violent crime.Report

      • @Mark Thompson, I can accept the premise that the police could ignore drug distribution and use in these iner city areas and the public would be happy. But then what? You’re saying that a black market leads to violence but does that mean legalization? It’s not as though with de-priortization the drug sellers will form unions. I fail to see how no police presence equals less killings in turf wars.Report

        • @Mike at The Big Stick, De-prioritization does not mean “no police presence.” Not even close. To the contrary, it arguably even means more police presence in the form of moving resources from drug investigation to beat patrols. It simply means that drug crime should be investigated when drug crime is reported and is an item of concern to the local community – and only when drug crime is reported and is an item of concern to the local community. This is not a demand that police ignore drug crime; it’s a demand that they treat drug crime no different from any other crime.Report

          • @Mark Thompson, Bottom line, you haven’t given a single reason why drug crime should be a higher enforcement priority than any other crime. You haven’t given a single reason why drug crime warrants deviation from knock-and-announce in a way that other crimes do not. You haven’t given a single reason why drug crime warrants asset forfeiture laws. Etc., etc.Report

            • @Mark Thompson, I never argued it should be a higher priority. What I remain most interested in is procedure. Specifically, how the police should bust drug operations when/if the public or their superiors demand it. So far ThatPirateGuy is the only one who has really outlined a procedural guideline for future police operations and I thank him for it.

              Afterall, this whole discussion was spawned by a criticism of tactics…right? I suspect we would not be seeing YouTube videos and expressions of outrage if it had been two patrolmen knocking on the door politely, being invited in, petting fluffy and then arresting the guy after finding a joint on his coffee table.

              Just as some background, I did a year-long study of law enforcement techniques when I was in college as part of my anthropology degree. I primarily focused on the evolution of tactics in the City of Louisville because my grandfather helped rewrite the manual after the 1968 riots.Report

              • @Mike at The Big Stick, I’ve given examples of tactics as well, but I’m emphasizing the prioritization issue because my whole point is that the prioritization results in the tactics. You do not see these tactics used in the enforcement of prostitution laws.Report

              • @Mike at The Big Stick, Is that completely accurate though Mark? Surely the police didn’t start up-armoring just because they felt like it. Is it conceivable that their tactics might be based, at least partially, on the resistance they have encountered not just on drug raids but in the day-to-day patrol of these communities?Report

              • @Mike at The Big Stick, A resistance that is borne out of……making drug law enforcement a top priority.Report

              • Jaybird in reply to Mike at The Big Stick says:

                @Mike at The Big Stick, sure.

                And with regards to Prohibition 1.0, I’m sure that increased police powers were a direct result of Al Caponish-levels of violence.

                Which is kinda sucky, when you think about it. Dr. Frankenstein creates a monster and then spends the next few years explaining how important it is that he be given weapons to fight this monster.

                There’s another option, Mike.

                Give the monster a name. Take responsibility for who created what. We can wave “why” away. Sure, everybody had the best of intentions. Absolutely.

                We’re past intentions at this point.Report

              • @Mike at The Big Stick, Dig deeper Mark. Police changed their tactics in the inner cities before drugs were the primary concern.Report

              • @Mike at The Big Stick, The rise in SWAT raids and in the militarization of police has been very much a recent phenomenon – between 1984 and 2009, SWAT raids increased by 1500 percent. 1500 percent.

              • @Mike at The Big Stick, Jaybird, Mark, You’re not looking back far enough, so let me help.

                In 1967 my grandfather carried one service revolver, .38 caliber. Occasionally he kept a shotgun in the back of his squad car but it was almost never used. In the spring of 1968, during the riots that swept through much of the country, he carried three handguns at all times, plus a shotgun. The stories related to me by my grandfather’s friends on the force was that prior to 1968 most of them had never been shot at by anyone that wasn’t white. This changed after 1968.

                During the riots police officers were bringing their surplus M1 rifles to work. After the riots there was a new interest in armor technology, crowd control techniques and improved ammunition. The first SWAT team was established in Los Angeles in 1968. Officers began switching from revolvers to large capacity automatics (my uncle carried an auto when he was a patrolman).

                It wasn’t the ramp-up in the drug war that spawned these tactics, it was the civil unrest of the 1960s and 1970s. The police developed SWAT teams in response and these tactics carried over into drug enforcement in the same communities.

                I’m not outlining this as some kind of excuse for heavy-handedness. What I am saying is that violence in these communities was not a reaction to police techniques. To the contrary, police techniques were a response to greater threats of violence.Report

              • Jaybird in reply to Mike at The Big Stick says:

                @Mike at The Big Stick, oooooh. You’re related to a cop.

                Fair enough.

                For what it’s worth, I believe that the SWAT response to drugs was part and parcel with Johnson’s War On Poverty. It’s one thing to hear that “those people” are smoking a doob on their Friday nights. It’s quite another to know that you pushed for laws to help “those people” and take YOUR OWN MONEY and redistribute it in the form of welfare and support systems and safety nets and they’re taking advantage of that and smoking a doob!!! SEND IN SWAT!!!

                And we get to see what happened with prohibition happen again.

                And the arguments against ending prohibition are echoed today. “Hey, I’m not saying that people shouldn’t be allowed to drink wine from time to time. But gin? People are going blind drinking bathtub gin that has wood alcohol in it! You want to repeal Prohibition? CHILDREN ARE GOING BLIND!!!”Report

              • @Mike at The Big Stick, Jaybird – Actually I’m related to several cops. Those connections allowed me to interview a lot of retired officers who started with the police department in the 1940s and retired in the early 1980s. The stories they told me lead me to believe that tactics were ramping up long before the War on Drugs really kicked off under Reagan. In general you had the riots, then a complete change in attitude towards the police, tactics got more heavy-handed, etc. It’s kind of like Desert Storm. I think the Republican Guard was the direct recipient of 20 years of post-Vietnam military R&D and spending. We dropped far more ordinance than necessary because we had all these smart bombs we wantesd to try out. Now even medium-sized cities like my own have pretty kick-ass SWAT units. So they abuse them.Report

              • Michael Drew in reply to Mike at The Big Stick says:

                @Mike at The Big Stick, It sounds to me like what we really have is an epidemic crisis in civil management of domestic law enforcement forces. A huge exacerbating problem is a total lack of central authority over these forces. Local police forces have upward access to all the latest techology and training, but all oversight comes merely from local authorities — city hall, the mayor’s office, and county courts mostly (though I suppose local authorities may be acting in some cases on federal warrants?). It seems like it’s time for state DOJs and Supreme Court systems to really step in and assert themselves. I don’t know that the feds are in a position to do much about this, which makes it a difficult thing to have a national discussion about. I actually have my doubts that drug enforcement is at the root of this problem, though dialing it back would likely help.Report

              • @Mike at The Big Stick, Michael Drew, I like the direction you’re heading in (DoJ or Attorney Generals controlling the police more). I’m also inclined to agree with you that drug enforcement is not the root of the problem. I have my own suspicions but I’m curious as to what you think it might be.Report

              • Michael Drew in reply to Mike at The Big Stick says:

                @Mike at The Big Stick, Mike, I don’t have much insight myself on what’s going – I just tend to agree with your point above that with all this tactical know-how and firepower newly at their disposal, the stuff is likely to be used one way or another. Blame Joe Biden, maybe (really). That said, I don’t deny that the current proximate cause is overzealous drug law enforcement, and as a policy matter I support Mark’s solution. I’m just not sure it’ll be a permanent one. It’s also not clear to my why poorly supported no-knock and other violent raids would be less tyrannical outside the drug context. It seems to me to get a fix on where the tyranny-legitimacy line really is, he needs to set out some more specific standards relating to legal justification of raids like this in general and suggest some procedural safeguards specific to this question, not just pivot to the policy issue driving it, though again, I think that would probably be an effective way to address the problem, at least initially.Report

              • @Mike at The Big Stick, Federal grant programs, which are often tied to drug arrests, are a big part of this, actually. Especially because those grants are often tied to drug arrests – and only drug arrests – and can be extremely lucrative to the point that they can provide enough funding to start up and maintain a SWAT team, which is exactly what they are frequently used for. Here, BTW, it appears that the Democrats are the biggest reason for the funding.

                See here for more:

              • Michael Drew in reply to Mike at The Big Stick says:

                @Mike at The Big Stick, That’s good information, thanks Mark.Report

              • @Mike at The Big Stick, So why the funding from Dems? Is it to try and appeal to their inner-city constituents who want to see a reduction in drug use/crime?Report

              • @Mike at The Big Stick, There’s several far more likely reasons. To my knowledge you don’t see this coming from Dems with big urban constituencies, and it seems that quite a bit of this funding, in practice, goes to less urban areas.

                But from personal experience I can say that this is precisely the sort of funding that public safety unions are very good at obtaining and the Democrats are obviously the party most willing to listen.

                Additionally, these funds are wonderful vehicles for pork that can be bragged about in newsletters and news articles.Report

              • @Mike at The Big Stick, That’s interesting because at least here in KY the police unions almost always endorse GOP candidates.Report

              • @Mike at The Big Stick, I think in big cities they tend to endorse Democrats. That’s at least true of the big city where I am from. Of course, considering that Democrats win most of those elections, that’s no surprise. But they seem to do so back home even when there is a possibly-competitive Republican in the run-off.Report

  9. Bubbaquimby says:

    This probably won’t be seen but the police Chief

    • Jaybird in reply to Bubbaquimby says:

      @Bubbaquimby, SWAT and narcotic investigators should not have executed an eight-day-old warrant in February, Columbia Police Chief Ken Burton said Thursday.

      Does this open them to one hell of a lawsuit?Report

    • Trumwill in reply to Bubbaquimby says:

      @Bubbaquimby, thanks for the link! The rest is for people wanting to know what it says but not so much to actually click over:

      The chief is implying that there were drugs that were vacated prior to the serving of the warrant. While they couldn’t wait ten seconds for Whitworth to answer the door, they apparently could wait eight days to serve the warrant. According to Chief Burton, the corgi was shot by accident and the pit bull had it coming.

      In the comment section, some people are suggesting that police are saying that they were not aware of any kids in the house, which I don’t know if it makes it better or worse. They were operating based on a tip from someone who said they saw it in the house and residue found from the trash.

      Their main regret seems to be the 8-day delay. They’re pretty sure they let him skate by on this with their tardiness.Report

      • Mark Thompson in reply to Trumwill says:

        “They were operating based on a tip from someone who said they saw it in the house and residue found from the trash.”

        He wasn’t even accused of being a dealer? Perhaps this raid is less typical than I thought. I certainly hope it is.Report

        • Trumwill in reply to Mark Thompson says:

          @Mark Thompson, sorry I wasn’t clear. The informant(s) said that they saw a ton there (and they somehow knew it was “high-grade”). Once you have above a certain amount, it’s considered “intent to distribute.” The police imply that it was all gone because it had all been distributed.

          Supposedly, there were two informants. There are claims that the first was stale, however, and that the tip came a long time ago. The second tip resulted in the trash scan, which resulted them finding the residue, which resulted in the warrant. That’s my understanding.

          On one other note, according to the comment section, the judge that issued the warrant already had quite a reputation for being unsympathetic to the accused.Report

          • Jaybird in reply to Trumwill says:

            @Trumwill, the family got busted with a misdemeanor amount of weed. What is the threshold between misdemeanor and felony in that jurisdiction?

            My inclination is to say “it’s probably pretty freakin’ low” but I don’t know and my google-fu is weak.Report

            • Trumwill in reply to Jaybird says:

              @Jaybird, not sure, but it’s pretty low. The CPD’s position is that there was a whole lot more there that was dispersed before the raid took place and they just found the leftovers. It could be true, or it could be a way for them to say “oops” without leaving themselves too exposed to a lawsuit.Report

  10. Kaleberg says:

    It sounds like you are making the same argument that ended all those ridiculous, but wonderfully cinematic, high speed car chases that all too frequently killed innocent bystanders. Despite that, crime statistics have fallen. Maybe it’s the horrid traffic?Report