Altoona's Privately Funded Drug War

One form of privatization we can do without


The Pittburgh Post-Gazette describes the "unique drug enforcement ladder" of Blair County, Pennsylvania:

Private DRUG war, that is.

At the top are the county's leading businessmen. In 2007, they created a nonprofit organization called Operation Our Town, which annually steers six-figure sums to the district attorney's office to help police and cover the salary of a drug prosecutor….

Created to combat out-of-town dealers following gunfights in Altoona in 2006, Operation Our Town has raised more than $2 million in private money over eight years for drug prevention, education and law enforcement.

Typically more than half of the money, including $120,000 last year, flows to the office of Blair County District Attorney Richard Consiglio.

"There's never enough money to go around in prosecuting and fighting the narcotics injection into the area," Mr. Consiglio said. He uses the grants to help police agencies to buy equipment and cover overtime, and, most of all, to pay his drug prosecutor.

Mr. Consiglio said he hired assistant district attorney Peter Weeks, who was then a new lawyer, to handle cases generated through Operation Our Town. Mr. Weeks' $52,126 salary, plus benefits and support staff, is covered by the private funds, he said.

A group of local businessmen hired the stage manager.
Operation Our Town

The newspaper compares this arrangement to the pre-20th-century system in which the victims of crimes hired prosecutors rather than relying on the state. The Blair County setup is rather different, though, since the crimes in question are victimless.

The Post-Gazette suggests that the semi-private system encourages "prosecutors to bring marginal cases to satisfy financial backers," and it describes some possible examples of that happening. This may well be true, but similar incentives are plentiful in the publicly funded drug war as well. The best alternative for Altoona isn't to move to a more tax-based system; it's to dump the drug war altogether.

Bonus links: This isn't the only sort of "privatization" that should raise libertarian hackles. To read about a privatized portion of a war, go here; to read about a privatized crackdown on junk cars and porn shops, go here.