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Feature: "Dangerous" Drug Raids? Not So Much for Police -- Unless They Make Them So

Law enforcement officials justify the frequent use of heavily-armed SWAT teams and no-knock warrants -- police do about 50,000 SWAT raids per year -- as protecting officer safety. The dramatic deaths of two officers, Chesapeake, Virginia's Jarrod Shivers and the FBI's Samuel Hicks, both caused by the choice to use SWAT tactics, suggests the opposite interpretation. So does the small number of officer fatalities relative to the large number of drug arrests across the country each year -- with 1.8 million drug arrests in the US during 2008, a total of seven police officers were killed while doing drug enforcement, according to statistics on police line of duty deaths compiled by the Officer Down Memorial Page. Three of the seven were killed doing drug raids. An eighth officer was killed following a traffic chase, not initiated as part of drug enforcement, of a suspect (a former police officer) who was on bail facing a drug possession charge.

[Ed: We originally included a ninth officer in this list, Timothy Scott Abernethy, as a second example of a case in which the drug war appeared to have played a role, despite it not having started as a drug investigation. A colleague of Officer Abernethy criticized our inclusion of his case as having too tenuous of a relation to the drug war if any, and after reviewing it we concluded that our decision to include Officer Abernethy in the listing was erroneous, and we have edited this article accordingly. If you would like to read more about this, click here.]

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drug raids -- not as dangerous as they make them
"In the last 10 or 11 years, traffic accidents killed more officers than anything else," said Kevin Morison of the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund, which also compiles a list of line of duty deaths. "When it comes to being killed enforcing the laws, traffic stops and domestic violence seem to be the top two. Serving warrants can also be dangerous," he said.

According to the foundation, 140 officers died in the line of duty last year, 71 of them in traffic accidents. Only 41 officers died of gunshot wounds, the lowest figure since 1956. One police officer was stabbed, one beaten to death, one drowned, one was electrocuted, one died in a train accident, two were blown up by a bomb, three died in aircraft crashes, and 17 died of job-related illnesses. Seventeen officers were struck and killed by other vehicles, typically while directing traffic.

According to historical data provided to the Chronicle by the foundation, last year's low death toll among officers enforcing the drug laws is not a fluke. In the decade between 1978 and 1988, an average of 6.5 officers were killed each year; in the following decade, the number was 6.2; and in the last 10 years, an average of 4.3 officers were killed each year enforcing the drug laws. The single bloodiest year for drug law enforcement was 1988, when 12 officers died.

There are slight differences between figures provided by the foundation and those provided by Officer Down, most likely related to the way each death is coded. The numbers below are based on Officer Down's count, as well as additional investigation done by the Chronicle.

Here is the list of those who gave their lives maintaining drug prohibition:

  • Chesapeake, Virginia, Police Detective Jarrod Brent Shivers was shot and killed while battering down the door of Ryan Frederick on January 17, 2008. Although Frederick was supposedly running a marijuana grow, no grow was found. Frederick was convicted of manslaughter and sentenced to 10 years in prison.
  • Senior Border Patrol Agent Luis Alberto Aguilar was run over and killed by Mexican drug smugglers near San Diego on January 19, 2008.
  • Harris County, Texas, Constable's Office Corporal Harry Theilepape died January 26, 2008 of gunshot wounds suffered nearly a month earlier when he arrested a suspect for possessing drugs and illegally possessing a handgun.
  • Grundy County, Tennessee, Sheriff's Deputy Sheriff Anthony Shane was shot and killed June 5, 2008, serving a probation violation arrest warrant for a man on a drug charge. The shooter shot himself as more police closed in, saying, "God just let me die. I don't want to live in this hell anymore."
  • Virginia Beach, Virginia, Police Detective Michael Smith Phillips was shot and killed while conducting an undercover drug buy on August 7, 2008.
  • Chicago Police Officer Nathaniel Taylor Jr. was shot and killed while executing a search warrant as part of the gangs and drug squad on September 28, 2008. The shooter had a history of violent and drug offenses.
  • FBI Special Agent Samuel Steele Hicks was shot and killed by a suspect's wife during a no-knock search of a Pennsylvania home on November 19, 2008. The shooter, who claimed she fired in fear for her life, now faces murder charges.
  • Another officer, Texas Highway Patrol Trooper James Scott Burns, was shot and killed following a traffic stop and brief car chase on April 29, 2008. The killer was a former police officer turned drug offender and manufacturer, who was out on bail facing a drug possession charge at the time and who eventually committed suicide. Whether Burns belongs on this list is open to interpretation -- he was not doing drug enforcement, so far as we know, when initiating this traffic stop, but appearances suggest that past drug charges and fear of more may have played a role.

These officers died in a year where there were more than 1.8 million drug arrests, as noted above, meaning police can expect to do 200,000 drug busts for each officer killed. In addition to the three who were killed on drug raids, two died after stopping drivers who had been arrested and imprisoned before on drug charges and were apparently not ready to return to prison, one was killed doing undercover work, one was killed in an encounter with smugglers, one was killed arresting a drug suspect, and one was killed attempting to bring in a probation-violating drug offender.

SWAT raids seem no less hazardous for the occupants of the homes being hit than they are for the police conducting them. (The following information is taken from the police militarization archives at Radley Balko's The Agitator blog. Readers with the stomach for it can find much, much more there as well.)

On January 6, 2008, police in Lima, Ohio, shot and killed a 26-year-old mother of six, Tarika Wilson, during a raid aimed at her boyfriend. The police shooter was eventually found not guilty for killing her.

The following day in North Little Rock, Arkansas, a police SWAT team raided the home of Tracy Ingle. Awakened by a ram battering his door and thinking he was under attack by armed robbers, Ingle grabbed a broken pistol to scare them off. Officers fired multiple shots, wounding him five times. He spent a more than a week in intensive care before police removed him, took him to the police station, and questioned him for five hours. He was charged with running a drug enterprise even though no drugs were found.

In May, Connecticut police raiding an apartment after being informed that people were smoking crack there, shot and killed Gonzalo Guizan, who was unarmed. Police said he charged at them. All they found was a crack pipe.

It's not just people. Dogs also seem to be a favorite target of drug-raiding police. In what is only one case out of the dozens that seem to occur every year, Cheye Calvo, the mayor of the Washington, DC, suburb of Berwyn Heights, Maryland, saw his two dogs shot and killed by a Prince George's County SWAT team that burst into his home after his mother-in-law accepted delivery of a package containing marijuana. Calvo and his family were twice victimized, once by the pot traders who used his address to have their dope sent to, and again by the gung-ho, itchy trigger finger police.

It is unclear how many people were killed by police enforcing the drug laws in general or conducting drug raids in particular. Although in 1999 Congress authorized legislation requiring law enforcement agencies to submit such data, it neglected to fund the program. The incidents mentioned above are only some of the most egregious and well-publicized, but they suggest that even if doing drug raids isn't particularly dangerous for police, it is for their victims.

"Tactically, those SWAT units are quite impressive, but they're vastly overused," said Peter Moskos, an assistant professor of Law, Police Science, and Criminal Justice Administration at the City University of New York's John Jay College of Criminal Justice, former Baltimore police officer, and author of "Cop in the Hood." "The problem is once you've got those units, you're going to use them. Their goal is to have overwhelming force and have all the cops live, but innocent people die," he said.

Law enforcement can have it both ways, said Balko, author of Overkill: the Rise of Paramilitary Policing in America. "If not many police are being killed in drug raids, they can say these tactics are working," he said. "If more are being killed, they can say this is why they need to be more aggressive."

Drug squad cops are a special breed, said Moskos. "Many cops never would want to work in one of those units," he said. "Even though the raids are pretty safe, they do more dangerous things like undercover operations. These guys tend to be whiter, more conservative, and guys who like breaking down six doors a day. In the drug squads in particular, they really tear it up. There is a certain vindictiveness; they think 'these people are assholes, they deserve it.'"

"Nobody has to be killed at all if they would just legalize the stuff," said David Doddridge, a 21-year veteran of the LAPD who rose to the rank of narcotics detective before he retired in 1994. "When I first started, we used to go to roll call, and they would tell us who has warrants, and we would drive out there and knock on the door. Then we went to a narcotics bureau, and we worked in teams, with battering rams," he recalled. "More citizens died than police," Doddridge said.

"I spent several years down in South Central kicking in doors and raiding homes, and probably served 50 search warrants," said Doddridge. "We weren't SWAT, just a couple of narcotics detectives with our vests on, and none of us got seriously injured. There was seldom any resistance."

Narcotics could be dangerous, Doddridge said, but not because of the raids. "The raids themselves are not very dangerous, more a danger to civilians," he said. "Doing plain clothes by yourself and buying drugs when nobody knows you're a cop is when it gets dangerous. We had a couple of our officers get beaten up buying drugs undercover on the street."

Things began to change with the introduction of the federal Byrne grant program to state and local law enforcement in the late 1980s, said Doddridge. "Then, with Byrne, we got Velcro vests and holsters, we got Kevlar helmets, all that stuff. Now, there are thousands of SWAT teams across the country. They don't have a lot to do, so they end serving drug warrants now."

It's a fool's errand, said Doddridge, who has, since his retirement, joined Law Enforcement Against Prohibition. "After a year or so of doing those drug busts, I thought it was crazy. We weren't doing any good. And I thought about the looks of the faces on those families, the children crying when we're dragging their Dad or their brother out. I thought to myself what are we doing? -- these weren't real criminals out robbing and attacking people. I started feeling really bad about all that."

Short of legalizing drug use and the drug trade, which would be his preferred option, Moskos said, there are a couple of things that could be done. "One thing we could do is just turn back the clock," he said. "It wasn't until the 1970s that we got all obsessed about drugs. I think we should just treat it like other minor crimes, like back in the 1950s. One problem is the productivity of drug squads is measured by how many doors they knock down. They need to knock down fewer doors."

Eliminating outdoor drug markets would help, too, Moskos said. "If you're worried about the violence there, you have to push it indoors, off the street. Fear of arrest and raids on their homes push dealers into the street, but maybe we could call a truce. Close your blinds, keep the music down, act like a good neighbor, then we could leave you alone."

You Can't Win the Drug War if Alcohol is Legal

Did you hear about this wild booze riot in Michigan? The massive unruly crowd hurled bottles at the cops, who had to launch tear gas grenades just to break the thing up. Pete Guither observed hilariously that no one ever throws bongs and rolling papers at police. He's right, they don't.

Advocates for drug policy reform are fond of pointing out the hypocrisy of permitting limitless consumption of riot-inducing alcohol, while banning silly things like marijuana that make people draw pictures or eat nachos. And that's a legitimate point to make, as far as it goes. But it is rarely observed that the legality of alcohol, by its very nature, plays an important role in undermining other drug enforcement efforts.

For decades, illicit drug users have found cover amidst throngs of raging drunks. Alcohol is just stronger than most other recreational drugs. A decent percentage of alcohol users can just be counted on to go berserk at their preferred dosage, leading to screaming, fighting, vandalism, clumsy sex, and so on. It's not just stupid to arrest pot smokers in the midst of all this, it's impossible.

The pot smokers are the ones that get away when a party is raided. They're the ones chatting at a table in the corner while your drunk girlfriend is dancing on the bar. They're the ones that get home without incident on a Saturday night. You'll never find them puking or punching each other, so you'd better test their urine or catch 'em in a cloud of smoke, otherwise you'll never know what's up.

It's not a crime to be wasted as long as you found your buzz in a bottle not a bag, thus police have no authority to act simply because everyone in your house looks messed up. Instead, drug arrests happen primarily through the intrusive and time-consuming methods of sting operations and widespread consent searches. You can put bodies behind bars this way, but not nearly enough to win the war.

As long as it remains legal to get utterly obliterated on booze, the enforcement of other drug laws won't just look stupid and hypocritical. It won't even work.
Localização: 
United States

Feature: ONDCP Kicks Off Annual Summer Marijuana Scare Campaign With Report Linking Drugs to Gangs, Violence

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ONDCP TV ad ''flat''
Drug czar John Walters and his minions at the Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP) have kicked off the summer season with a report on teens, drugs, gangs, and violence. The report, part of ONDCP's widely criticized National Youth Anti-Drug Media Campaign, links marijuana use to gang membership and links teen drug use to higher rates of violence and other anti-social activities. But the ONDCP report is raising a storm of disapproval from critics who charge it is misleading and intentionally obfuscatory.

"Teens who use drugs are more likely to engage in violent and delinquent behavior and join gangs," the report declared. "Research shows that early use of marijuana -- the most commonly used drug among teens -- is a warning sign for later gang involvement." After next warning that summer is a risky time and that "teens who use drugs are twice as likely to commit violent acts," the report got to a series of bullet points including the following:

  • Teens who use drugs, particularly marijuana, are more likely to steal and experiment with other drugs and alcohol, compared to teens who don't;
  • One in four teens (27%) who used illicit drugs in the past year report attacking others with the intent to harm;
  • Nearly one in six teens (17%) who got into serious fights at school or work in the past year report using drugs;
  • Teens who use marijuana regularly are nine times more likely than teens who don't to experiment with other illicit drugs or alcohol, and five times more likely to steal.

"This is such transparent nonsense that I'm almost speechless," said Bruce Mirken, the usually loquacious communications director for the Marijuana Policy Project. "Marijuana doesn't cause violence and it doesn't cause criminality. Prohibition, however, does. That's the connection and that's exactly what they don't want to talk about. In that sense, this report is even more egregiously dishonest than most of what ONDCP puts out."

"It is incredibly ironic to see ONDCP simultaneously advancing the idea that marijuana causes laziness, which it has been doing for years, and then turn around and try to tell us that marijuana causes violence," said Scott Morgan, blogger for DRCNet. "It is also pretty shoddy to suggest a link between marijuana and gang membership. To whatever extent marijuana users are likely to join gangs, these relationships are facilitated by drug prohibition, which creates the black market in which these gangs thrive."

"That some kids join gangs has nothing to do with marijuana at all," agreed Mirken. "Our drug laws have handed the marijuana market to the gangs, and the association is a direct result of stupid laws. If we regulated marijuana like alcohol, those associations would disappear overnight."

In fact, the data linking marijuana use to gang membership is quite limited. ONDCP relied on one 2001 study of Seattle students to arrive at the conclusion that the two are linked.

"Walters and Murray seem to have their usual array of components at work here: an ad hominem attack against the 1960s, a bunch of supposedly pro-family pablum, an attack against those who take a different approach, and their typical twisting of data for the uninformed," groaned Allen St. Pierre, executive director of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML).

"What ONDCP is in effect telling us is that its billions of dollars worth of propaganda does not stop young people from using marijuana, and secondly, that a very small percentage of them go on to experiment with other drugs," said St. Pierre.

Pete Guither at the Drug WarRant blog took issue with the claim that drug users were involved in 17% of fights. "It all sounds scary, unless you actually look at it," he wrote. "If you look at the 2007 Monitoring the Future report, you see that the percentages of any teens who used drugs in the past year are: 8th grade (14.8%), 10th grade (28.7%), and 12th grade (36.5%). So to say that 17% of teens who got into serious fights report using drugs is not a particularly alarming thing. In fact, it appears by these numbers that teens who use drugs are actually less likely to get into serious fights."

ONDCP also seems to have trouble with the notion of cause and effect, said MPP's Mirken. "If you look at the studies of kids, the ones who are smoking marijuana or using drugs or alcohol at a young age are the ones that are already having problems, already not doing well in school," said Mirken. "It is not surprising that this troubled group of young people is doing all sorts of bad behaviors, but trying to pin that on marijuana is just absolute nonsense."

The report's release may have more to do with ONDCP worries about budget cuts for programs proven not to be effective, like the National Youth Anti-Drug Media Campaign, than with actual cause and effect relationships between youth drug use and anti-social behavior, suggested Tom Angell, government relations director for Students for Sensible Drug Policy (SSDP).

"It would appear that ONDCP has nervously pushed this out because they are terrified that congressional leaders are moving to cut the funding for many of their so-called anti-drug programs," said Angell. "They're grasping at straws, trying to get as much ammo as possible to defend their much-loved big budget items."

"This is just another shock report that ONDCP feels it needs to put out to get any press at all," said St. Pierre. "Everything ONDCP has done for the last five years is about whipping up fear, anxiety, and emotional contagion among parents to try to maintain the status quo and keep some part of the media reporting on this ridiculous report."

Even there, ONDCP had limited success. Aside from reports in several Philadelphia media outlets, where drug czar Walters held a press conference to announce the report, a lone Associated Press story was picked up by 65 media outlets, most of them TV news stations in small to medium markets. Only a handful of print media ran the story, and that includes one outlet in marijuana-phobic Australia and one in Great Britain.

But that won't stop ONDCP from producing more sensational but misleading reports, said NORML's St. Pierre. "We can set our calendars and know that about a week before school starts in the fall, we'll get the next big scare effort from ONDCP," he predicted.

Marijuana Doesn't Cause Gang Membership, But the Drug War Does

ONDCP's effort to link marijuana with violence and gang membership is ironic for another important reason I failed to address in my previous post.

If there is one thing that overwhelmingly creates and sustains gang activity in the U.S. and around the world, it is the massive black market created by drug prohibition. Indeed, so long as recreational drugs are available exclusively from criminals, these organizations will continue to be empowered and sustained.

Interestingly, the study from which ONDCP draws its misleading link between early marijuana use and gang membership notes that it isn't just the use of marijuana, but also the availability of marijuana that indicates a heightened risk of gang activity.

In other words, the neighborhoods which are overrun with black market drug activity inevitably become recruitment camps for young people to become involved in the drug trade. Drug prohibition facilitates youth access to marijuana and other drugs by creating an economy in which they are welcome participants.

The idea that marijuana's pharmacological effects cause violence is patently absurd, but the revelation that many young people in America are sucked into a cycle of violence, drug use, and other crime should come as no surprise to any of us.

ONDCP has often pointed out that young people who reach adulthood without experimenting with drugs are less likely to develop problems with drug abuse. Yet nothing could better facilitate youth access and participation in the drug market than the anarchic system our communities must endure at their continued peril and which ONDCP so vigorously defends.

More than anything else, ONDCP's new report paints a vivid picture of how drug prohibition has failed us at every level, up to and including the corruption of the precious young lives this fraudulent war supposedly protects. If you don't believe me, just pull up a chair, wave your Drug War Flag, and gaze in horror as your worst fears about youth, drugs, and violence are reborn again and again before your eyes.

Localização: 
United States

Op-Ed: Mexico's multi-front war on drugs

Localização: 
Mexico
Publication/Source: 
Los Angeles Times
URL: 
http://www.latimes.com/news/printedition/opinion/la-oe-dresser16jan16,1,644216.story?coll=la-news-comment

Troops mass to fight drugs in Acapulco, 2 other cities

Localização: 
Acapulco, GRO
Mexico
Publication/Source: 
The Arizona Daily Star
URL: 
http://www.azstarnet.com/allheadlines/164104

Mexico drugs crackdown leaves cops without guns

Localização: 
Tijuana
Mexico
Publication/Source: 
The Brunei Times
URL: 
http://www.bruneitimes.com.bn/details.php?shape_ID=16315

Mexico's drug war death toll tops 2,000 (San Francisco Chronicle)

Localização: 
United States
URL: 
http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?file=/c/a/2006/11/14/MNGL3MC3I91.DTL

People are Getting Beheaded in Mexico

It’s horrible. But there’s nothing very surprising about it. The drug war promises endless violence and always delivers. Pablo Escobar killed three presidential candidates in the same election and blew up an entire passenger plane to kill two snitches.

This year beheadings are popular. I wonder what people would say if things like this were happening on American soil:

In the most horrendous instance, drug lord gangs busted into a nightclub, toting rifles, and rolled five heads across the dance floor, terrifying onlookers.

People were surprised, but I’m sure everyone knew what it was all about. This kind of thing has been commonplace ever since the drug war began.

Various anti-immigration bloggers are now citing these incidents as evidence that our borders must be secured, for fear that Mexicans will come to America and start cutting peoples’ heads off.

It’s a bit silly, because the worst drug traffickers have no reason to leave Mexico. They’ve got the run of the place. The people crossing the border are poor folks who come here for economic opportunities, less-overt corruption, and white picket fences that don’t have severed heads impaled on them.

If you’re concerned about immigration, note that our drug war incentivizes traffickers to dig tunnels and cut holes in the fence.

If you don’t want your tax-dollars spent educating foreigners, note that you’re footing the bill to train counter-narcotics police in Colombia that just get massacred ten at a time.

And if you’re troubled by all the beheadings near our border, note that our current policy ensures their continuation for the remainder of human history.

Stopping the drug war is our only chance to defund drug terrorists and bring a close to this global catastrophe.


Localização: 
United States

Paraphernalia: Florida County Approves Tough New Ordinance

Head shop and paraphernalia store owners in Pinellas County, Florida, are in for a rough ride after the county commission Wednesday gave final approval to a new drug paraphernalia ordinance that will make it easier to win convictions than current Florida law. Under state law, people can only be found guilty of paraphernalia sales if it can be proven they knew the product they sold would be used to ingest drugs. The new county ordinance lowers the bar, requiring only that the seller should reasonably have known such use would occur.

Those convicted under the new county ordinance face up to 60 days in jail and fines of up to $500. Repeat offenders could see their business licenses jerked.

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pipe
The new law is the result of a county Drug Paraphernalia Abatement Task Force organized by County Commission Chairman Ken Welch last year. The ordinance follows almost letter by letter the recommendations of the task force's report issued in June, which claimed that drug paraphernalia "enabled" drug use.

Opponents of the ordinance showed up at the commission's Wednesday meeting to no avail. According to a report in the St. Petersburg Times, among those protesting the ordinance was Kurt Donely, executive director of the Florida NORML chapter. He said the proposed 60-day penalty was too extreme. "I would lose my house, my car," Donely said. "Something would happen to my pets."

Another opponent was Tamara Pare, 23, an employee of Purple Haze Tobacco & Accessories in St. Petersburg. She arrived dressed as a hooker, wearing red heels, a short skirt, and a halter top. Her attire, she said, was "a visual metaphor" that underscored the silliness of the "reasonably should know" standard. "Many reasonable people today might see me dressed like this and think I'm a prostitute," Pare told the board.

Her boss, Leo Calzadilla, spoke via videotape from his store, with shelves of water pipes on display behind him. The ordinance would be aimed at specialty shops like his when items that could be used as drug paraphernalia can be found almost anywhere he said. "This ordinance is going to do nothing but tie up our local courts system," Calzadilla warned.

But commission head Welch was unswayed, although he acknowledged the ordinance would not stop drug use. "It's not going to solve the entire problem," he said. "It's a step in the right direction."

Perhaps Welch and the county commission should be stepping over toward the county attorney's office because it appears it will be busy fending off challenges. "I'm still confused," Alan Berger, 51, co-owner of Balls of Steel in Gulfport, said after the vote. "Should I pull everything off the shelves? I guarantee you, we will fight."

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