Drug Policy

Democrats Pick Pork over Police Accountability


Last week, police in Kentucy went on a 24-hour drug raid blitz, where they…

…discovered 23 meth labs, seized more than 2,400 pounds of marijuana, identified 16 drug endangered children and arrested 565 individuals in connection with illegal drug use in a 24-hour period.

What inspired this sudden burst of drug war aggressiveness? Complaints from the citizenry? A vicious string of drug-related murders? A series of overdoses?

None of that. Seems they were concerned that the federal government is about to turn off the spigot.

During "Operation Byrne Blitz," which took place Wednesday, state police and highway patrol agencies, local police and sheriff's departments, and drug task forces throughout the country conducted undercover investigations, marijuana eradication efforts and drug interdiction activities. The collaborative effort, named for the federal grant program which funds many of the anti-drug efforts, underscored the impact that cuts to this funding could have on local and statewide drug enforcement.

The Byrne Grant is problematic for a lot of reasons. But chief among them is the way it warps police priorities by tying drug arrests to the federal teat, reinforcing the disastrous numbers game Ed Burns spoke about in my interview with him last week. Byrne Grants exacerbate the militarization of the drug war, too. If you've got an expensive-to-maintain SWAT team, you can earn some easy federal money by sending them out to bust up a low-level drug offender a few times a week. Actually arresting the perpetrators of violent crimes that aren't drug related doesn't bring in the cash.

Byrne Grants have been blamed for a lot of drug war disasters, including the clusterfuck of wrongful arrests in Tulia, Texas, which were then followed by similar outrages across that state. It led to Texas eventually abolishing the multi-jurisdictional (and unaccountable) drug task forces largely funded with Byrne Grants.

In a rare case of passing some sensible crime policy, the GOP Congress started phasing out Byrne grants in the 1990s, a trend that has continued through the Bush administration. It's a good idea. Even if you support the drug war, these grants do little to help fight it, and only serve to make local police departments less accountable and less transparent. Even the White House Office of Management and Budget has been sharply critical of the program.

Unfortunately, Congressional Democrats (and many Republicans) can't resist the easy, positive publicity that comes with a press release announcing the procurement of federal crime-fighting pork for the local police department. They want to bring back Byrne grants in full force. One leading senate proponent of re-funding the grants is, unfortunately, Democratic presidential frontrunner Barack Obama.

Back to the story in Kentucky:

"The impact of our drug task forces can be clearly seen in the success of this one-day blitz," said Justice and Public Safety Secretary J. Michael Brown. "While combining these efforts in a 24-hour period makes a statement, it's important to remember that these types of activities go on every day, and are a critical tool in eradicating illegal use."

Adds Iowa Sen. Tom Harkin:

"Every year the Byrne grants are slashed, we run the risk of keeping more drugs and criminals on the street,"

But if police in Kentucky can go out and find 2,400 pounds of marijuana in 24-hours just to make a political statement, isn't that a pretty good indication that the grants aren't working?

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  1. And why are Obama and dems better than the GOP on the drug war? Obama is shapping up to be the libertarian dream. Massive tax increases and stepping up the drug war. Beware Obama.

  2. No one in politics, except for the rare Ron Paul type, will push for a drug war reduction. And unfortunately, the higher the office they are seeking, the more likely they are to push for a drug war increase, because they want to appeal to the “tough on crime” massive constituency.

    So expect nothing good from Obama, at least rhetoric-wise. Maybe he’d lighten up when in office but right now he’s not going ot advertise that.

    Besides, all politicians love to buy police support.

  3. identified 16 drug endangered children

    In one day? Don’t think so. I have a feeling these were “ongoing investigations,” in which case police knew these children were endangered and left them in that situation until D-Day.

  4. Yeah, that’s disappointing to learn about Obama. It’d be nice to hear how he would respond to a tough question about that issue, but there are probably 10 journalists in the world that even know about this issue, so the chances that he’ll be asked and pressed to answer the question are basically nonexistent.

  5. “The impact of our drug task forces can be clearly seen in the success of this one-day blitz,” said Justice and Public Safety Secretary J. Michael Brown.

    Michael Brown?!?

    How’d that motherfucker find his way back into power?

  6. People go to the matt for failed drug war grants and “counter-terror” grants, but the community policing strategy that actually worked gets short-changed.

  7. joe,

    Where’s the “free money” in community policing?

  8. But if police in Kentucky can go out and find 2,400 pounds of marijuana in 24-hours just to make a political statement, isn’t that a pretty good indication that the grants aren’t working?

    Think how much they could seize if they didn’t get the grants? But for the grants, the drug problem would be so much worse.

    Wow, this drug warrior thing is easy. Next argument.

  9. Those “marijuana eradication efforts” sure are working as intended. I mean, the stuff is so difficult to find now that local high schoolers probably have to call, like, three or four people to get a brick of Sour Diesel.

  10. Any operation with the word “blitz” in the title should rile up som concern.

  11. > Any operation with the word “blitz” in the title should rile up som concern.

    Pretty soon some legislator will call for a genocide of illegal drugs. Or maybe a jihad…

  12. Russ2000,

    The COPS program – the “100,000 police on the street” – funded community policing grants.

  13. Speaking as a Kentuckian, 2,400 pounds of marijuana is nothing when you consider it’s not even growing season. That amount of marijuana is about a Thursday night in Lexington.

    For those who don’t live in “cops burning marijuana plants is a regular TV news feature” states, the thing they never point out is that the plants are always topped. Always. Burning useless leaves and stalks is doing nothing to curtail marijuana consumption.

    The real question: Where they harvested by the growers or the police?

  14. The sheriff’s office hear is singin the blues that in our county of some 40,000 people he may not get to use his helicoptor as much because of these type cuts.
    btw, our county is home to Fort Rucker, home of some 755 army helicoptors doing evrything from flight training to live fire. Not to mention the UAVs.

    And once again the local drug task force is facing major cutbacks.

  15. joe,

    Thanks for the info.

    Judging strictly by this breakdown, I’m not inclined to believe COPS is all that much better of a program though:


  16. identified 16 drug endangered children

    In one day? Don’t think so. I have a feeling these were “ongoing investigations,” in which case police knew these children were endangered and left them in that situation until D-Day.

    And just WTF does “drug endangered” actually mean?

    If Ma & Pa fire up a phattie while watching SNL, does that mean the kiddies are “drug endangered”?

  17. 23 meth labs…2,400 pounds of marijuana…16 drug endangered children…565 individuals [arrested]…in a 24-hour period

    All that, and not one “isolated incident”? How can that be?

  18. By “drug endangered” they mean forcefully taken from their parents and made wards of the state.

    My personal epiphany regarding the War on Drugs occurred while watching COPS. Some guy with his family got pulled over for doing 5 mph over on the freeway. He apologized, cop told him to drive slower and let him off with a warning. No big deal right?

    Well, right as they were about to let him go, the cops ran his name. It turned out he was on probation for some minor misdemeanor (either a DUI or possession). They pat him down and search the car and find a tiny quantity of weed in the vehicle. Uh oh. Out come the cuffs. His two daughters start crying asking not to take Daddy away and his pregnant wife is pleading with the officers, but its no use and the cops take him off and book him.

    And then they moralized about how awful drugs were and the family wouldn’t have this problem and would still be together if it wasn’t for drugs and it was a good thing they got him off the streets and away from those children.

    How do these people sleep at night?

  19. How do they sleep? With a pile of money for a pillow, that’s how.

  20. It’s already been discussed here before, but

    Invisible COPS
    How Clinton’s plan to field 100,000 new police turned into a pork barrel as usual.
    By Steve Chapman
    Posted Monday, Nov. 12, 2001, at 3:38 PM ET

    Do More Cops Equal Less Crime?
    Or do the stats disprove the rhetoric?
    Steve Chapman | November 12, 2007

  21. I’ll never forget the footage from Dallas last year or year before. While they were flight testing a new helicopter, the cops found a huge plantation of marijuana plants.

    Right behind the regional DEA office.

  22. Cops are a political force because they play well to strong demographics like geezers afraid of almost everything and Spitzer’s who love busting balls. Since 9/11, the police can do no wrong. It will take another decade of police misconduct before the tide turns.

  23. It would seem to me that timing raids such that they make a political statement could undermine their entire legal underpinning. After all, the courts are supposed to issue warrants, and especially no-knock warrants based on a confluences of conditions that occur at a specific time. If the cops and pick and chose the time of the raid to such a degree that means that the conditions were not so urgent.

    If I were a defense attorney I would certainly look into to that and I would definitely bring it up before the jury.

  24. Russ2000,

    That’s an ugly budget breakdown. The funding priorities were quite different in the 1990s. Bush/Ashcroft/Gonzo basically changed into another Neat Stuff for SWAT Teams program.

  25. Whoops, that was me.

  26. Everyone with Showtime on TV should see:

    “American Drug War: The Last White Hope”

    It talks about Iran Contra and the links to Ricky Ross (The “King of Crack) through a CIA paid informant / agent among other things. It will really piss you off.

  27. This reminds me of a debate I had with a Law Enforcement friend of mine, I was arguing that the war on drugs is a failure in a massive way 80 billion a year spent and even the Customs service admits they only have a 5% success rate what a waste anyway my friend says well if we stop the war on drugs we will have people committing crimes to support their habits and so on my reply to that was “as apposed to what we have now?” when are we going to end this travesty?

  28. There is no winning a war where the money is measured in weight rather than spending the time to count it because there is so much.

    The people who are responsible for promoting and perpetuating this lie are so far up in government you’d need wings to get there.

  29. It has always struck me as odd how on one hand they claim any amount of illegal substance is poison. As they act when arresting people for simple possesion etc. But at the same time they will run these stings for 2 or more years before making any arrests as they document the flow of large quantities of drugs passing through during that time.

    So how can they argue they need to get all drugs off the street at one moment and yet allow so much drugs to get out to the people they claim they need to protect the next?

    This just points out how they really don’t care that anyones doing drugs or they would stop any quantity at anytime its is known to exist. Not allow tons and tons over years to pass through all the while knowing its making it to the streets. What they care about is getting enough info and evidence over YEARS to finally make some big multi jurisdiction bust for the cameras and pols to put out as press releases about their greatness.

    Why are the police never asked why they allowed 2 years of drug flow to continue for 2 years before doing anything. It seems rather hard to claim your anti drug while ALLOWING those very drugs to pass by you for some larger endgame.

    The other day they found 3 tons of pot in a house from a car stop, warrant etc. They immediately had pics of the bundles and the cops. It is a dead give away when they do not do this PR shit they are to busy covering their asses as witnessed time and time again with these raids.

    The COPS show that pissed me off the most was one they did similar to the one mention. Arrested a guy in his car for a joint or some nonsense. Then they cut to the cops sitting around a bar all drinking beer. FUCKING HYPOCRITS.. I don’t care if its legal or not, if you take away others freedom for doing something you do yourself just via another intoxicant you deserve a slow death and if there is a hell you will surely end up there.

  30. It would seem to me that timing raids such that they make a political statement could undermine their entire legal underpinning.

    Not since Branch Davidian.

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