Police Corruption and the War on Drugs
Last week, former undercover police officer Stephen Anderson told the New York State Supreme Court that planting drugs on innocent people was so common that it didn’t even register emotionally to him. The story is starting to get traction in the media as an egregious example of police corruption, but it’s notable only because of the admission to the practice in open court. Each year, there are hundreds of cases in which police officers are caught stealing, using, selling, or planting drugs or pocketing the proceeds from drug busts. Despite the obligatory PR protestations that any given instance of corruption is an isolated case, the systemic, legal, social, and economic incentives in every law enforcement agency in America combine to make police corruption virtually inevitable. And with no other category of crimes are these incentives stronger than with drug crimes.
Anderson testified that drugs would be seized from suspects at a given bust, divided, and then used again as evidence against other people on site (or at a time later) who had nothing to do with the initial arrest. This was, in part, due to established drug arrest quotas the officers needed to meet. As public servants, police departments face the same budgetary pressures as any other government entity and thus their officers are required to meet certain benchmarks set by the powers that be. Added to the normal budgetary justification, however, many police officers are in the position to confiscate cash and property that can be sold at auction thanks to civil asset forfeiture laws. Many departments across the country keep a percentage or the entirety of forfeiture proceeds, so pressure to maintain a certain level of drug arrests is something straight out of Public Choice: 101.
So far, about 400 cases have been dismissed because of these most recent revelations from the NYPD. It’s too early to say how many and to what extent the victims were “innocent,” but the city seems to think 400 people were victimized by lying police officers. The police were able to lie with impunity because they enjoy the advantage of assumption of innocence.
I will never understand why the War on Drugs doesn’t cause more outrage.
Consider what it does to our police departments alone: Brave, smart young people go in. Out come criminals who prey on the very people they’ve sworn to serve. I know, I know, it’s not all of them. But it is enough. Enough!
I am reminded of Timothy Leary’s quip that LSD is a drug that causes insanity in people who have never taken it. This would be hilarious if the insane didn’t also have guns, dogs, tasers, flashbang grenades, armored personnel carriers, and jail cells at their disposal.