Friday, August 21, 2009

Best of the old: The drug money trail

There are a lot of great posts in LEAP's archive from our old blog. The following post by Terry Nelson is one of my favorites, so I'm posting it again. On September 16th, 2008, he wrote:

I am often asked why more police do not support LEAP. While many police officers know very well that they will never arrest their way out of the drug war and do support LEAP’s purpose, the department management is sometimes against legalization.

A recent article by Ronald Fraser in the Tallahassee, Fl. newspaper presents the reality of America’s War on Drugs. He reports that on the streets where illegal drugs are still easy to get at affordable prices, Florida's police chiefs are losing the decades-long drug war. But, ironically, back in their precinct headquarters, many of these officials depend on drug raids to fatten their operating budgets. While the drug trade still enriches the bad guys, police chiefs now get a piece of the action. One study reports that 40 percent of the nation's local police agencies are dependent on seized assets as a necessary budgetary supplement.

Many states, wary of overzealous police departments, require that the proceeds from seized assets be used for education or other non police purposes. But the 1984 federal Comprehensive Crime Control Act, a turning point in America's war on drugs, provided a way to get around these state laws.

State and local police departments, working with U.S. agents, federalize money and property seized during local drug raids. The federal government gets at least 20 percent of the seized assets, but the feds give back up to 80 percent of the seizure — now exempt from state law — to state and local police agencies.

According to federal statistics, the share going to Florida law enforcement agencies went from $16 million in 2000 to $29 million in 2007. Nationally, state and local agencies collected $416 million in 2007, up from $212 million in 2000.

Why is this bad news?

Originally the primary reason police seized assets was to break up the illegal drug supply lines. Today, however, that original reason has been replaced by self-serving budgetary considerations. Citizens should legitimately ask why their local police force conducts drug raids. Is it to rid the town of drugs — or are the raids an easy source of extra income that harms innocent people along the way?

What to do? It is time for federal and state legislators to shut down the conflict of interest loophole that allows police departments to profit from their official duties at the expense of the very citizens they are hired to protect.

As current and former officers we know that legalization will drastically reduce the crime and violence surrounding drug smuggling. Let's spend the money saved on education and treatment instead of incarceration. We all want a better future for ourselves and our children.

(Editor's note: the original link to the article in the Tallahassee Democrat is no longer active, but the web site of the Tuscan Citizen is still showing a similar article by the same author - Ronald Fraser - but tailored to Arizona instead of Florida.)

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