At Least Seven Police Officers Died for Drug Prohibition Last Year [FEATURE]

Last Friday, thousands of police from across the country, as well as civilians, gathered in downtown Washington, DC, for a candlelight vigil to honor law enforcement officers who gave their lives in the course of their duties. The event was a highlight of National Police Week, sponsored by the National Law Enforcement Officers' Memorial Fund, which is set up to honor those who have died.

2009 NLEOMF ceremony (
There were plenty to remember. According to the Officer Down Memorial Page, 158 law enforcement officers died in the line of duty last year. Not all of them were killed by criminals. Forty-three died in auto accidents, 12 died of heart attacks, seven were struck by vehicles, five died in motorcycle accidents, four died in vehicle pursuits, two each died of falls, aircraft accidents, and accidental gunshot wounds, and one each died of heat exhaustion, unspecified accident, training accident and boating accident.

According to FBI statistics released Monday, 56 of those law enforcement deaths were felonious, 55 by gunfire and one by motor vehicle. According to a Drug War Chronicle analysis, seven of those deaths were related to drug law enforcement. Our parameters are conservative, but unavoidably subjective, fuzzy, and open to challenge. Those incidents where officers were killed because of the way we address illicit drug use and sales are:

  • On May 3, 2010, Detroit Police Officer Brian Huff was shot and killed after responding to a 3:30am report of shots fired at "a drug house." Huff and several other officers surrounded the house. When Huff and other officers made entry, they were hit by gunfire. Huff was killed, and four other officers were wounded. The suspect, who was also wounded, was eventually sentenced to life in prison.
  • On May 20, 2010, West Memphis, Arkansas, Police Officer Bill Evans and Sgt. Brandon Paudert, who were working drug interdiction on Interstate 40, were shot and killed when they pulled over a vehicle carrying a heavily armed father and son with a serious grudge against the government. When the two officers ordered the men out of the vehicle, a struggle ensued and they were both killed by fire from an AK-47. The suspects fled, but both were later killed in separate shoot-outs with law enforcement. The Crittenden County sheriff and one of his deputies were wounded in one of the shoot-outs.
  • On July 21, 2010, George County, Mississippi, Sheriff Garry Welford was struck and killed by a vehicle being pursued by deputies. The driver of the vehicle was wanted on a warrant for failing to appear for sentencing on a narcotics charge. The driver and his passenger were later arrested and charged in connection with Welford's death
  • On July 28, 2010, Chandler, Arizona, Police Officer Carlos Luciano Ledesma was shot and killed while conducting an undercover "reverse" sting operation in Phoenix. Working with two other undercover officers, Ledesma was attempting to sell 500 pounds of marijuana when the suspects came out firing. The other officers were able to return fire, killing two suspects and taking six others into custody. The two other officers were also wounded.
  • On November 14, 2010, Green County, Georgia, Sheriff's Office Chief Deputy Kevin Roberts was shot and killed at his home by the target of a narcotics investigation the sheriff's office was undertaking. The subject had gone to his home and knocked on the door at about 8:30 am on a Sunday morning. When Chief Deputy Roberts answered the door he was fatally shot by the man, who then killed himself.

If these seven deaths all qualify as drug war-related, that means police killed as part of the drug war account for 12.5% of all felonious officer deaths. The number may seem small -- only seven dead officers -- but that is seven officers who most likely would not be dead today but for drug prohibition. And nobody seems to know how many were wounded, sometimes with grave consequences, but it is almost certain to exceed the number killed.

[Editor's Note: Nor is anybody counting how many civilians are being killed in the name of drug law enforcement -- except for Drug War Chronicle. This year, we are tallying every reported death due to US domestic drug law enforcement operations. Just for perspective, so far, we have 25 dead civilians and two dead law enforcement officers.]

"One dead police officer is too many in my book, said Neill Franklin, a 34-year veteran of the Baltimore Police Department and Maryland State Police who now heads the group Law Enforcement Against Prohibition (LEAP). "If we can save one life through drug policy reform, it's worth it to me."

"I may have to die as a cop, but I certainly don't want to die just because some 13-year-old is slinging crack," said Peter Moskos, a former Baltimore police officer and author of Cop in the Hood, who is now on the faculty of the John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York City.

There are ways to reduce that likelihood, both men said. They range from harm reduction measures such as decriminalizing marijuana possession, decriminalizing all drug possession, and providing heroin maintenance for addicts, to rebuilding police-community relations, especially in the inner cities, to revisiting and revising police tactics, particularly SWAT-style no-knock raids and perhaps those "reverse sting" operations, to shifting police resources and priorities.

"Why are the cops selling pot?" asked an incredulous Moskos as he reviewed the killing of Chandler Police Officer Ledesma in a "reverse sting" gone horribly awry. "Why sell 500 pounds of marijuana? What were you hoping to do?"

"We're starting to see marijuana decriminalization in more states, and I think that's important," said Franklin, citing New York City's policy of mass stop and frisks and mass marijuana possession arrests, almost always against young people of color. "If more states starting moving toward decriminalization, we could relieve some of the pressure from this steaming tea kettle. That would make for a more relaxed environment between police and young people. Prohibition has made our communities extremely tense and dangerous, and the cops are on edge. We have to rebuild this relationship."

"We can fight the war on drugs less," said Moskos. "Police do have discretion. They can focus on other crimes and shift resources accordingly."

And they could rethink the gung-ho paramilitary raids, said Moskos. "I always think of David Koresh and the Branch Davidians in Waco," he said. "They could have just picked him up at McDonald's. But from the cop perspective, these raids are pretty safe. They represent a shift in police mentality. They're not so safe for civilians, but that's a risk police are willing to take. They would rather have collateral damage than damage to their own ranks."

Both Franklin and Moskos said that only counting incidents where there is a direct drug war connection probably results in undercounting the number of police officers killed because of drug prohibition. The case of Georgia State Patrol Officer Chadwick LeCoy, which didn't make the list, is illustrative of the broader impact of decades of drug war on the safety of police. LeCroy was shot and killed after a short vehicle pursuit on December 27. He wasn't enforcing the drug laws, but the driver who killed him had extensive experience with the criminal justice system, including prior drug, firearms, and eluding police convictions.

Given the millions of drug arrests in the past few decades, the tens of millions of years worth of prison sentences handed out, the lives knocked off track by a drug-based encounter with the criminal justice system, it is no leap of the imagination to think there are plenty of people out there nursing very serious grudges -- grudges that might manifest themselves as attacks on police even if there is no immediate drug link.

"Maybe we need a separate category: this would not have occurred if drugs were not illegal," said Moskos. "If someone has a long record because of drugs and then shoots at a cop at traffic stop, that could fit that category. Police get the brunt of it because of the war on drugs."

"These decades of drug war have poisoned the well," said Franklin, recalling his teenage years in Baltimore. The kids would be hanging out, and when the patrol car rolled around the corner, they would chat and joke with the officer before he went on his way, he said.

"Now, in that same neighborhood, when a police call turns the corner, the first thing you hear is shouts of '5-0' and everyone scatters," he related. "If I tried to talk to them, they were very standoffish and using words you don't want to repeat. It's a very antagonistic and uncomfortable situation; you can feel the tension. They will tell you they don't trust the police and that the police mainly come into their neighborhoods to search them, their cars, and their homes for drugs. The foundation for this separation of police and community is our drug policies and the environment they create."

There are ways to reduce the death toll, both law enforcement and civilian, in the war on drugs. We know what they are and how important the task is. The problem is political will. And the very law enforcement organizations whose officers' lives could be saved are among the biggest obstacles to change.

[Click here for a Flickr slideshow from the 2011 NLEOMF Candlelight Vigil.)

Permission to Reprint: This article is licensed under a modified Creative Commons Attribution license.
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It's like I keep saying.  They aren't waging war on drugs - they are waging war on the American people.  And now the Supreme Court says that enforcing the nation's marijuana laws is more important than enforcing the U. S. Constitution.  It's a sad time in America for all of us.

Legalize adult marijuana sales

It is truly regrettable that seven police officers died due to the drug war last year. Over the same time period, 15,273 people were murdered by the Mexican drug cartels engaged in safeguarding their financial interests - the bulk of which comes from selling marijuana in the U.S.

Considering this horrific loss of life, it is ironic and repugnant for police chiefs in this country to continue to fight to prevent legalizing adult marijuana sales - especially when we consider the utter failure of the prohibition to prevent marijuana use!

Even sadder still, would be if we were to learn that our police chiefs support for the prohibition was being encouraged by the gross inequity in the harm that other people are being forced to bear for their prohibition.

They died in the line of duty

Protecting big pharma and alcohol's profits.

How many?

How many Americans (non-cops) have died as a result of prohibition?  Why does no one ever present those statistics?

Also, how many innocent dogs have died at the hands of cops?  To tell you the truth, I'd much rather read about 3 cops dying from drug war violence than one dog dying at the hand of a cop.  Remember, people who are cruel and sadistic towards animals, or coldly killing other people's dogs are also cruel and sadistic towards people and coldly killing people.  Are these really the kinds of people we want as police?  I think not.  

Why in HELL are these sadistic killers not weeded out, early, from the ranks of wannabe cops?  And why in HELL are the American people putting up with cold blooded killers roaming our streets wearing badges of authority?

Most cops

who die "enforcing drug laws" are either shot while cleverly disguised as terrorists, illegally breaking into a private residence or cleverly disguised as drug dealers, buying and selling illegal drugs.  Holding themselves above the law.  Committing crimes in order to create crimes to punish other people for.  These guys are not heroes, at least not in my book.  Every one of them is a willing soldier in a war against the people.  They HAVE a choice, and it's them, not us, who choose violence.   

Oh, and by the way?

These guys didn't die for drug prohibition, they died because of their own violent tendencies. 

Free Country?

A check into US senate history back to the debate of the first punishments/laws against MJ (1931) will horrify you! This law has always been a method of racial control and profiling rooted in bigotry. On the senate floor the main argument for the prohibition was so that... "uppity n-words"... won't have the gaul to "look a white man in the eye". That's an exact quote from the senate floor folks. Don't take my word for it, look it up! We can't put an end to any form of hate or violence against minorities or police or anyone for that matter unless we look back at the ugly, unpleasant truth. MJ LAWS ARE RACIST, UNCONSTITUTIONAL, AND HAVE BEEN MAINTAINED FOR TWO PURPOSES ONLY: MONETARY GAIN OF A FEW AND SYSTEMATIC CONTROL OF THE POPULOUS!


Pity officers should die while sustaining this four decade old, failure of a civil war. How many years of life are lost to drug related incarceration each year? How about for the duration of this war? How many tax dollars are not only not being made, but being spent on this theft of life and liberty?

There were over 530,000 people incarcerated for non-violent drug offenses in state or federal prisons in 2005 (, 2005).  This is 530,000 years of life taken each year because of prohibition. If an average lifespan is seventy-seven years, prohibition (our government) kills 6,883 people, and rising, every year.. . . . . so what was the big deal with 9/11?

How Many Civilians were killed

Yeah these guys were cops who enforce corrupt drug laws. What I'm interested in is how many civilians were murdered by cops in the past year?

Lives lost

There are a whole lot of ways for lives to be lost in this war on drugs.The war as it is now known has a sordid 100+ year history and just because one idiot ignored the evidence and testimony of his own hand picked panel and declared a war doesn't eliminate 60 years of prohibition abuses.In my day the police broke bones by jumping on a junkies leg draped over the curb until it shattered in 23 places.There were two guys in the BC pen at the same time who had that experience.I had a 38 stuck in my mouth and was told I could wind up in the Fraser river and no one would care.I also had a 20lb rock thrown through my car wind shield right at my face.I was then kicked in front of a priest who was told;"police"and walked away without a word.Do I hate cops?guess.I lost 12 years to various prisons and all because I had the stupidity to use heroin.I am ,in spite of all the beatings,rip offs,shootings and other abuse still an addict only now I have no choice as I have 4 vertebrae damaged in my lumbar spine.Now I can't get proper pain meds because;"I might get addicted".How many people are doing life sentences without parole or so much time they will die in prison for drug crimes?How many OD's because of bad cut or adulterants that cause what pure heroin almost never does?If the world had learned from the 60's experiment in England instead of taking a moralistic stand a lot of what we now see would have never taken place.The thing is,no one needs to die over drugs.Take the forbidden fruit out of the mix and drug use goes down.Take a look at Portugal.Of course the prohibitionists will claim that won't work here.Funny how they can delude themselves into thinking what we're doing now is working.Hilarious.

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