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December 17, 2004

Loveable Murphy

The Press-Enterprise in San Bernardino County, California, ran a feature story this morning on Murphy, the county's latest narc, a presumably cute and loveable drug dog who in the last month alone has helped to interdict 67 pounds of drugs and $295,000 of cash that "apparently had passed though the fingers of people who had handled narcotics."

Unfortunately, none of the people involved in this questioned the basic rationale of the strategy -- does it actually make any difference? Not Deputy Heidi Hague, not local fast food mogul Rory Murphy who paid for Murphy's training, not Richard Brooks who wrote the article, and I would guess not Murphy himself.

Drugs are a market. Traffickers in them compensate for these seizures -- which they expect will take place on a regular basis -- by shipping more of their product. Drug prices have generally plummetted over the decades we've been doing interdiction, which means the seizures don't seem to even have succeeded in affecting things that way either.

There's another problem, though. It turns out that a phenomenally high percentage of the paper currency in circulation has traces of drugs on it, particularly cocaine, users of which sometimes use rolled up bills for snorting. For example, in 1999 Thomas Jourdan, the chief of materials and devices at the FBI Laboratory in DC, told the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette that 85-90% of the cash in circulation has measurable amounts of cocaine. Though Jourdan didn't think a properly trained drug dog would react to that level of cocaine presence, but other experts drew cautions.

Clearly a drug dog's reaction to cocaine on a stack of bills does nothing to prove that the person in possession of the currency at that time earned it through an illicit transaction, even if such a transaction took place in the past. So I'm not sure how confident we should be that some of the $295,000 Deputy Hague picked out with Murphy's help was not the legitimately accumulated earnings of wholly innocent people. All of a sudden it doesn't sound so cute anymore.

Let the Press-Enterprise know what you think, and post a copy of your letter back here.

- Dave Borden, DRCNet

Posted by dborden725 at December 17, 2004 05:10 PM

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