Flimsy Sanity: Drug War from a Police Perspective

Flimsy Sanity

In individuals, insanity is rare; but in groups, parties, nations and epochs, it is the rule. - Friedrich Nietzsche

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Drug War from a Police Perspective

The following is from essays on the drug war in the National Review. Joseph D McNamara was former chief of police in Kansas City, Mo., and San Jose, Calif. . Mr. McNamara, who has a doctorate in public administration from Harvard, is the author of four books on policing and is currently a research fellow at the Hoover Institution.

``IT'S THE money, stupid.'' After 35 years as a police officer in three of the country's largest cities, that is my message to the righteous politicians who obstinately proclaim that a war on drugs will lead to a drug-free America. About $500 worth of heroin or cocaine in a source country will bring in as much as $100,000 on the streets of an American city. All the cops, armies, prisons, and executions in the world cannot impede a market with that kind of tax-free profit margin. It is the illegality that permits the obscene markup, enriching drug traffickers, distributors, dealers, crooked cops, lawyers, judges, politicians, bankers, businessmen.

Naturally, these people are against reform of the drug laws. Drug crooks align themselves with their avowed enemies, such as the Drug Enforcement Administration, in opposing drug reform. They are joined by many others with vested economic interests. President Eisenhower warned of a military - industrial complex that would elevate the defense budget unnecessarily. That military - industrial complex pales in comparison to the host of industries catering to our national puritanical hypocrisy -- researchers willing to tell the government what it wants to hear, prison builders, correction and parole officers' associations, drug-testing companies, and dubious purveyors of anti-drug education. Mayor Schmoke is correct about the vested interests in the drug war.

Police scandals are an untallied cost of the drug war. The FBI, the Drug Enforcement Administration, and even the Coast Guard have had to admit to corruption. The gravity of the police crimes is as disturbing as the volume. In New Orleans, a uniformed cop in league with a drug dealer has been convicted of murdering her partner and shop owners during a robbery committed while she was on patrol. In Washington, D.C., and in Atlanta, cops in drug stings were arrested for stealing and taking bribes. New York State troopers falsified drug evidence that sent people to prison. And it is not just the rank and file. The former police chief of Detroit went to prison for stealing police drug-buy money. In a small New England town, the chief stole drugs from the evidence locker for his own use. And the DEA agent who arrested Panama's General Noriega is in jail for stealing laundered drug money.

The violence comes from the competition for illegal profits among dealers, not from crazed drug users. Professor Milton Friedman has estimated that as many as 10,000 additional homicides a year are plausibly attributed to the drug war.

It was such issues that engaged law-enforcement leaders -- most of them police chiefs -- from fifty agencies during a two-day conference at the Hoover Institution in May 1995. Among the speakers was our colleague in this symposium, Mayor Kurt Schmoke, who told the group that he had visited a high school and asked the students if the high dropout rate was due to kids' being hooked on drugs. He was told that the kids were dropping out because they were hooked on drug money, not drugs. He also told us that when he went to community meetings he would ask the audience three questions. 1) ``Have we won the drug war?'' People laughed. 2) ``Are we winning the drug war?'' People shook their heads. 3) ``If we keep doing what we are doing will we have won the drug war in ten years?'' The answer was a resounding No.

At the end of the conference, the police participants completed an evaluation form. Ninety per cent voted no confidence in the war on drugs. They were unanimous in favoring more treatment and education over more arrests and prisons. They were unanimous in recommending a presidential blue-ribbon commission to evaluate the drug war and to explore alternative methods of drug control. In sum, the tough-minded law-enforcement officials took positions directly contrary to those of Congress and the President.

Even the National Review can make sense sometimes.


  • At 9:38 AM, Blogger Not Your Mama said…

    You'd think that our current approach is not effective would be obvious to even the densest citizens wouldn't you?

    Actually this kind of ties in to why I'm not really on the "let's ban all guns" bandwagon. I seriously doubt our ability to remove them from the public domain at this point in time.

  • At 10:19 AM, Blogger United We Lay said…

    On the Colombian news one of the heads of government there mentioned that he had told the US about 35 shipments of cocaine to America and the DEA did NOTHING. Besides the fact that drugs are so ingrained in our culture that you can't really fight a war on them, hemp and marijuana plants would go a long way towards reducing the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, providing a source of fiber for diets and clothing, and helping to drastically reduce the amount of errosion on riverbanks.

  • At 3:11 PM, Blogger Peacechick Mary said…

    I am all for legalizing all drugs and taxing the hell out of them. Then we could use the money to educate and rehab. Of course a lot of politicians would lose donations from the drug lords and many low life dealers would be out of business.

  • At 5:55 PM, Blogger Catmoves said…

    Excellent article. I admit to watching television, but in my defense I wanted to point out that a show on The History Channel called "Illegal Drugs and How They Got That Way" is certainly worth watching.
    The only thing I am concerned with about legalizing these drugs is that it will certainly raise our road death tolls.
    But removing the profit motive should help erase the basic problem.

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