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January 31, 2005

Mobile, Alamaba Police Chief Blames Drugs, Guns, Domestic Violence for Homicide Rate

The Mobile Register in Alabama reported today that homicides in 2004 were on the upturn -- 28 within the Mobile Police Jurisdiction, which extends three miles beyond the city, up from 24 homicides during 2003.

The article discussed the much higher homicide rate during the mid 1990s -- 1995 had the peak with 56 -- implicitly raising the question of whether 2004's increase means that violence is again going back up. Police Chief Sam Cochran isn't worried about that, according to the article, for among other reasons arguing that three of the 28 are likely to be cut from the statistics -- they were killed by police and ruled "justifiable."

It seems awfully cavalier for Chief Cochran not to be worried about a possible rise in violence, if that characterization by the reporter is accurate. To be fair, four homicides or one out of 28 is not very conclusive statistical evidence; maybe it's not going up. But there have been ominous signs in other parts of the country in recent years, such as Baltimore, which in 2002 saw a wave of juvenile murders putting the city on track to exceed the mayor's hoped for reduced homicide target by more than 25%. And two weeks ago the Baltimore Sun reported on a wave of drug trade killings and the stunning admission by police that their drug crackdown was the cause.

More unfortunate was Chief Cochran's predictably unimaginative response -- he wants more cops, 600 instead of the current 475 -- and he credits the work of the Street Level Interdiction Drug Enforcement (SLIDE) team for reducing violence in the city. Cochran should look to the Baltimore events for an example of why his analysis may be off base.

Regardless of that, the national homicide rate, and the individual rates in our big cities, are unacceptably high and only go to show just how bad the situation was a decade ago when they were even higher. As Chief Cochran points out, one of the cause is drugs. By and large that means the drug trade, which means that the way to stop them is clear -- end prohibition, legalize drugs. Then Cochran and the taxpayers wouldn't need 125 more cops on the payroll. And they might be able to do something about those five remaining unsolved homicides from last year -- at least they could try harder if they weren't spending so much on the futile drug fight. But Cochran loves his SLIDE team too much for that.

Letters to the editor can be submitted here.

- Dave Borden, DRCNet

Posted by dborden725 at January 31, 2005 09:16 AM

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For the life of me, I don't know why this aspect of things isn't stressed much more by the reform movement. The "Enjoy better sex" ad might be a good advertisment for pot after legalization comes, but it's not going to convince any of the prohibitionists now. Some might accuse us of fear-mongering, but we really need to help the public understand that the murders and violence come out of the underground economy, which in enabled entirely by prohibition.

A little over a year ago, in Washington DC, Jahkema Princess Hansen, a 14-year-old girl, was murdered by a "drug gang enforcer" who was trying to cover up two murders he'd committed the previous weekend. Absent drug prohibition, there would never have BEEN a "drug gang," and no "drug gang enforcer," and none of those murders would ever have taken place. This is just one story in a long sad history of brutal violence that our nation's capitol became synonymous with in the 80's. This kind of thing claims the lives of hundreds of adults and dozens of young people each year (referring specifically to DC). And all out of a policy they cling to in the name of protecting our young people!

It's very unfortunate that, here in "the land of the free," arguments about rights, liberties and freedom fall on deaf ears or are met with outright derision. Those arguments should be enough. But the prohibitionists might begin to come around if they could understand what a corrosive thing the "war on drugs" truly is.

Posted by: Timothy J. Lambert at February 2, 2005 01:44 PM

Whenever police mention that cracking down on dealers creates pressure that results in violence, they always cite the same reasons. Firstly, a general increase in tensions - true, though generally in the summer when the corners have more people on them, especially kids. Also that dealers wanting to collect debts more quickly, presumably before an arrest or before they get out due to increased pressure - maybe, but this sounds like self-aggrandizement on the part of the police to me. Are such a large portion of drug-killings debt-related? Does killing someone allow recovery of a debt?

One of the biggest things, at least in Baltimore, which was recently cited, that causes police pressure to lead to more violence is that it changes the battle-lines. Shutting down corners move people to new corners where there are already established dealers, an obvious recipe for disaster. Shutting down many corners creates crowding as there is less territory, but equal supply and demand. In a city like Baltimore, where heroin and coke have brand names, where crews of young dealers also have names - often taken from pop culture and where dealing defines society so much that Dolphin street is still known as "Little New York," even though its dealers moved to Baltimore a decade ago, this is like lighting a powder-keg in a movie theatre to lessen the availability of gunpowder.

Perhaps this effect, like the balloon effect in Latin America, but with the balloon exploding in the end, is known by the police. I would guess it is very well known. But to explain this to a newspaper is to say, "Support our increased fervor in the war on drugs, not only will there be more killings, but we might be able to move the battleground to your front yard."

Posted by: Gabriel Froymovich at February 14, 2005 02:23 AM

Thanks for the additional info on Baltimore, Gabe. Check out my previous post on the Baltimore "cops admit prompting violence" story after it came out a few weeks ago.

Posted by: David Borden at February 14, 2005 08:51 AM

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