The war on drugs does not only imprison, wound, and kill drug offenders and innocent bystanders; instead, both sides take casualties in this long-running civil war waged against American citizens by their own government. The latest casualty on the law enforcement side came on the night of December 26, when Prentiss, Mississippi, police officer Ron Jones was shot and killed while serving a drug warrant. Acting as a member of a South Mississippi drug task force, Jones was shot in the abdomen as he attempted to enter the rear of a duplex in Prentiss less than a mile from the town police station.
Jones, 29, the son of Prentiss Police Chief Ronald Jones, was wearing a bullet-proof vest, but a bullet from the gun of 21-year-old Cory Maye, who rented the residence, entered Jones' body just below the bottom of the vest. After being shot, Jones staggered through the house to the front of the duplex, where he met other officers. He died in a police car on the war to the hospital.
Mayes is being held without bond on first-degree murder charges and faces a death sentence or life in prison if convicted. Mayes had no prior criminal record. No drugs were found at the duplex. Local law enforcement officials have refused to say what the officers were searching for or whether Mayes was a suspect in the raid. Two other residents of the duplex were temporarily detained, but then released without charges, the Associated Press reported.
Jones was the 14th law enforcement officer to be killed enforcing the drug laws last year, according to Berneta Spence, director of research for the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Foundation in Washington, DC. "These 14 were responding to drug-related matters, serving drug warrants, or involved in a drug search," she told DRCNet. The foundation memorializes law enforcement officers killed in the line of duty each year with a May 13 vigil and a May 15 commemoration on National Law Officers Memorial Day. According to Spence, 55 officers have been killed enforcing the drug laws since 1995.
But former San Jose, CA, police chief Joseph McNamara believes that could be a lowball figure. "The number is probably higher than listed because a lot of police officer deaths that are listed only as suspicious or as a traffic stop or other unspecified circumstances are actually drug stops," he told DRCNet. "Going back to the federal government's declaration of a drug war, police are extremely aggressive, and stopping an automobile is always dangerous for police," he said. "You never know if the guy is carrying a kilo of cocaine and looking at a mandatory life sentence."
San Miguel (Colorado) County Sheriff Bill Masters, author of the just published "Drug War Addiction: Notes From the Front Lines of America's #1 Policy Disaster," told DRCNet that the toll must also include the thousands of police officers killed trying to enforce US drug policy in countries such as Colombia and Mexico, as well as the innocent civilians caught in the crossfire. "Fortunately, the number of law officers killed in the US has dropped dramatically in the past 25 years," he said, "because of better tactics and better analysis of each law officer death. But the flip side is we don't do the same review on innocent people killed by police agents who raid the wrong house or shoot someone who committed no wrong," said Masters.
"The victims are not just police officers killed, but also innocent people killed and the police officers who have to live with the fact that they were put in a position to kill or be killed because of a failed policy," the long-time Colorado sheriff continued. "I really empathize with those officers who are put in that position by legislators and police administrators and who end up either getting hurt or hurting an innocent person."
McNamara, too, expressed great pain at the deaths and their futility. "I look at these numbers year after year with a feeling of enormous sorrow," he said, "because in the back of my mind I always knew that this drug raid or that drug raid was not going to lower drug use in the neighborhood. These raids are highly dangerous to citizens," the Hoover Institute fellow added. "Police SWAT weapons will penetrate houses two or three blocks away. Law enforcement policymakers need to really look at the dangers to police officers and to citizens compared to the lack of permanent benefits you get from a drug raid," McNamara said.
"Those decisions on conducting drug raids with heavily armed police should be made at the highest level by chiefs of police or other top brass, and the question must be: 'Does the risk to police and civilian lives justify the raid?'" McNamara continued. "If you have enough evidence to do the drug raid, why not just wait until the guy goes to the dentist or goes to get his Mercedes serviced?" he asked. "I hate to say it, but I think they make the raid because they want to seize the money."
Sheriff Masters echoed McNamara's comments. "These police officers are being trained with military tactics," he said, "but is this sort of tactic really necessary? Police will argue that the evidence could be destroyed without the element of surprise, but I'm not sure if a few grams of cocaine are worth an officer's life. Certainly not my officers," he said. "I won't put them in that position. It's a disaster waiting to happen."
For McNamara, the heavy-handed police raids and the deaths they generate are only further evidence that "we're fighting the wrong war." In a letter published Wednesday in the New York Times, he noted that during the last few years the number of DEA agents had increased by 26%, while the number of FBI agents increased only 2%. If the FBI had seen a similar expansion "to work against terrorism, the many federal blunders that permitted a devastating act of war against our country most likely would have been avoided," he wrote.