The War on Drugs and police corruption on their own are both controversial and important topics; but are they related? Is the War on Drugs tempting our police officers to be more corrupt? Many would argue that it does in fact do that and in turn the War on Drugs does not fight or deter crime, it promotes it.
In 2002, 41 Tijuana officers were arrested for allegedly working with drug traffickers, protecting shipments of drugs, taking bribes and even for executions (Preston Preet, 2002). Generally police officers are under paid for the services that they provide and it can be easy for them to fall victim to the criminal life because of the large sums of easy money it provides. As Maurice Punch (2009) describes in his book “Police Corruption: Deviance, accountability and reform in policing” cops are just like any other normal person and can just as easily be lured into the temptation of easy money as a criminal could.
For many officers that are dealing with the War on Drugs it could become very frustrating seeing so many drug-dealers get arrested and go to prison to have the same amount come back out on the street the next day. While the officers are trying to fight the War on Drugs they could feel that they, no matter what their efforts, are consistently being beaten. This could eventually lead an officer to live a vigilante like life. The officer might fabricate evidence or lie under oath just to try to put as many suspected drug-dealers away as her could – while his intentions are for the greater good, it is still a form of police corruption.
The debate on whether or not drugs should be decriminalized in North America has been an extremely controversial subject since the start of the War on Drugs. Many North Americans believe that the War on Drugs has failed and even most politicians, despite what most of them might say in public, would agree. Recently the Global Commission released a report stating “Political leaders and public figures should have the courage to articulate publicly what many of them acknowledge privately: that the evidence overwhelmingly demonstrates that repressive strategies will not solve the drug problem, and that the war on drugs has not, and cannot, be won” (CBC New, 2011). The Global Commission proposes that the United States decriminalizes drugs, especially marijuana, as it will weaken organized crime and corruption within the government and police force (CBC News, 2011). Follow the link to watch the full report from CBC
The reason much of society claims that the War on Drugs is not working is because drug use is increasing as well as corruption (CBC News, 2011). In comparison to countries such as the Netherlands, where drugs are decriminalized the United States has a higher percentage in drug use (Chambliss, 1995). With more corruption and higher drug use in the United States than in countries where they do not fight drugs it is hard to believe that the War on Drugs is in fact effective.
Corruption is a big part of why the War on Drugs needs to be reconsidered. It is difficult for police officers to not fall to temptation of the drug trade because of the exposed opportunities (Sullivan, 2008). Cops are just like any other people and are subject to temptation by large sums of money (Punch, 2009). The reason that this becomes difficult for them is because criminals and cops begin to share the same environment and same surroundings; the police may even become friends with criminals (Punch, 2009). It is not uncommon for an undercover officer to go to the other side because of the environment they become accustomed too (Punch, 2009). Drug unit officers are most likely the ones to fall victim to temptation because of the large seizures of drugs and money they are consistently around (Sullivan, 2008). Corruption within the drug unit usually consists of stealing drugs and selling them for profit, stealing money, as well as illegal searches and seizures (Sullivan, 2008). Drug enforcement officers are typically the most vulnerable to bribes because of the large amounts of money involved (Sullivan, 2008). By way of illustration in 1995 in the state of Washington there were 77 officers with charges against them for drug offences (Sullivan, 2008). That is a substantial amount of a police force to have charges laid against; however, these are the ones that were caught, never mind the amount that managed to stay under the radar. Ultimately, the War on Drugs makes it inevitable that some officers to accept bribes (Sullivan, 2008).
When police were protecting drug dealers there would be less murder and assaults and this led the community to believe that the police were doing a good job at protecting the streets from crime and that there was no drug market in their neighbourhood (Sullivan, 2008). The ironic thing about this assumption is that they were preventing more violent crime by protecting the dealers. The ultimately gave them a license to deal (Sullivan, 2008).
The War on Drugs leads to many different types of police deviance. One of the most serious ones is the use of SWAT in house raids. This is considered an extremely serious one because of the innocent people that end up frightened and sometimes killed because of them. The SWAT will go into a house based on a “tip” they received from a neighbour suspecting drugs in the house (Balko, 2006). The police deviance that results from these cases is the in proper procedure that is followed. For example, in the raid on a young man’s home in Florida the warrant was a “knock and announce” which states that the police must knock and announce that it is the police before knocking down the door. In this particular raid there is evidence that suggests that the police did not follow this procedure and it ended in the young man taking ten bullets (Balko, 2006). This is only one of many examples of police misconduct in relation to raids.
One of the typologies commonly used to describe officers that go looking for opportunity in regards to corruption are called meat-eaters (Punch, 2009). One of the first places that a meat-eater may go to look for an opportunity is the drug unit. With the amount of opportunity the War on Drugs gives to the meat-eaters it would hard for them not to go there first when seeking out a potential gain. There are many different ways that they could gain from it. They could cooperate with the drug dealers in exchange for money, they could steal drugs and sell them for profit, they could steal money from seizures and that is just to name a few.
Sullivan (2008) notes that the current drug policies lead to corruption of our police departments and government officials and the CIA cooperated with the Medallion drug cartel in 1993 that was responsible for shipping one ton of cocaine into the United States; the most disturbing part is that the whole thing was swept underneath the rug and no CIA officials were charged. There are many reported incidents of the CIA cooperating in the drug trade. There is overwhelming evidence that suggests cooperation during the Vietnam War allowed the shipment and trade of opiate drugs.
The amount of money paid to fund the War on Drugs is outrageous and the time and effort spent by our law enforcement could be spent towards preventing and enforcing other laws. For example, in 1992 68% of arrests in the United States were for drug offences and 36% of all prisoners for drug offences were for low level offences and had no previous record (Sullivan, 2008). It seems as though many people of the public are against drugs and support the War on Drugs, hence why no president has put decriminalization into action; however 50% of incarcerations are for crimes that the public deems “not very serious” (Sullivan, 2008). It is easier for politicians to convince the public that fighting drugs will keep their community safer than giving up on the fight and trying a different alternative. Many see giving up on the War on Drugs as supporting crime even though this is not the case.
Statistics have shown that places like ‘Insight’ or regulated ‘needle parks’ reduce the spread of AIDS and Hepatitis among addicts (Sullivan, 2008). If these parks are helping prevent disease and most of our incarcerations are for low level drug offences is it safe to say that the War on Drugs is not helping? With all the corruption from the cops and all the organized crime going on one could say that it is only making situations worse and that countries are losing thousands of people in this endless fight.
Whether or not to decriminalize drugs will always be a controversial issue. Even though many statistics show that it would be in our society’s best interest to make the change people are afraid of just that. Tens of thousands of people die every year because of drugs, whether it is overdoses because the drug injections are not regulated the drug dealers and gang members fighting over their turf or the police officers that are just trying to enforce the law. What we do know is that too many people die because of drugs and something needs to change. Millions of dollars goes toward funding the War on Drugs that could be used for other things such as health care for Americans or the prevention of serious crimes such as murder, rape and robbery. Corruption is a huge indictor as well that this is not the outcome that we hope for. Corruption and drugs go hand in hand as does organized crime and drugs. If we were to decriminalize drugs we would ultimately be solving the problem of corruption and organized crime. The old saying goes “if it aite broke don’t fix it”. Well what if it is broken? Should we not do what we can to try and fix the problem? If we have been fighting drugs for decades and it has not improved then we should try something new or the outcome will be the same – “If you always do what you’ve always done, you’ll always get what you’ve always got”.
There are many people and organizations that benefit from the War on Drugs and it’s a wonder that they are not the reason why it is continuing. First and probably the most obvious are drug dealers. They buy product in bulk for very little money and flip it for an enormous profit, while the consequences if busted can be intense, many do not mind taking the risk for the extreme amounts of cash that are involved. Second would be law enforcement. Corrupt cops benefit from the War on Drugs by becoming a part of the criminal acts the take place. As mentioned above, police involved in the drug trade can become corrupt due to the opportunities for large sums of money. Third would be politicians. Politicians benefit in a different way. They use the War on Drugs as a way to increase their campaign. The community is more likely to elect someone that wants to fight drugs and crime and make them feel safe in their community. Society doesn’t generally elect someone that “condones” crime and/or drugs (which is the way it may seem if they did not support the fight against drugs). Lastly, would be private prisons. Private prisons receive funding per inmate. So if the incarceration rate goes up – so does their funding. It is easy to see why any of the above would and do benefit from the war, but what about the rest of society that does not.
The fact of the matter is, when you look at the facts and at the history of the War on Drugs, it is potentially causing society more harm than good. Not only is it striping our community of money to fund the endless fight but it is killing millions of people, some completely innocent of crimes, in the process.
The money that is spent annually towards funding the War on Drugs could be used towards other things such as health care. Can anyone really agree that the War on Drugs is more important than the health of our community? I think it is safe to assume that most would agree that the health of the child is more important than whether the teenager down the block gets busted for smoking a joint? Yes this may be a harsh example, but it is the bare naked truth. President Nixon said the Drugs were America’s number one enemy?
In all due respect President Nixon but I would have to disagree and say that cancer and other deadly illnesses may be more of a threat to American’s than a choice to use or sell drugs. If half the money was spent on cancer research as it has been to fight the War on Drugs thousands of lives may have been saved – someone may not have lost their child to leukemia at the age of 5, someone may not have lost their mother or father, brother or sister… instead people have lost their families in a War that may never end.
What can we do?
What are the alternatives to the War on Drugs? Are there any? Have they been successful? As a matter of fact there are alternatives and other countries have paved the way by demonstrating how successful these alternatives can be. The Netherlands, for example, has been a leader in the search for alternatives. Switzerland has experimented with alternatives to police enforced prohibition and there have been established “needle parks” where addicts can safely and legally purchase drugs. In Vancouver there is a safe injection site known as “Insite” which is North America’s first legal supervised injection site
The sad truth about drugs is that people will do what they want and making it legally available is not going to make that decision for them… only they can do that, the least we can do is make sure they do it safely.
Punch (2009) always talks about the bad apple or bad orchard theory… If it is in fact a bad orchard what we as a society can do to prevent that orchard from growing and infecting more of the community is by stopping the source of their corruption – the War on Drugs. No War on Drugs = no drug dealers and no drug-related corruption… it’s really that simple – if an orchard is producing bad apples it is up to us to stop watering the trees.
Balko, Radley. (2006). Overkill: The Rise of Paramilitary Police Raids in America. Washington, D.C.. Retrieved on November 3, 2011 from http://www.cato.org/pubs/wtpapers/balko_whitepaper_2006.pdf
CBC News. (2011). News Cast. Retrieved from web on October 25th 2011 from http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8D1GPTCWta8
CBC News. (2011). War on Drugs on Bust: Commission. Retrieved from web on October 25th 2011 from http://www.cbc.ca/news/world/story/2011/06/02/drug-war-report.html
Chambliss, William J. (1995). Another lost war: The costs and consequences of drug prohibition. Proquest. Social Justice. San Francisco. Vol. 22, Iss. 2. Pg. 101.
Lee Sullivan. Sheriff. (2008). Drug Unit Corruption: Stopping the Scandal Before it Starts. Proquest. Alexandria. Vol. 60, Iss. 1; pg. 27, 3 pgs.
Punch, Maurice. (2009). Police Corruption: Deviance, accountability and reform in policing. Portland, Oregon: Willan Publishing.