Why Cops Love the Drug War
by Jacob G. Hornberger
After more than 30 years of death, destruction, and failure, the two primary advocates of the war on drugs are public officials and drug lords. The reason is obvious: these two groups are the biggest beneficiaries of the drug war. The drug lords make money off the war — big money. And government officials make money off the war — big money.
One of the major ways that government officials make money off the drug war is through bribes. Government inspectors at international crossing points are bribed to look the other way when a drug shipment is coming across the border. Drug agents are bribed to look the other way with respect to drug distribution. Prosecutors and judges are bribed in return for reduced sentences.
No doubt about it: The drug war is one big, rotten, corrupting government program, one with absolutely no redeeming benefits whatsoever. It would be difficult to find a better example of a domestic government program that produces more death, damage, corruption, and infringements on privacy and liberty.
Another way that government officials make money off the drug war is a legal one — through the asset-forfeiture laws. These are laws enacted by public officials that enable the cops to seize assets supposedly involved in a drug-law violation and keep the assets for themselves. The program has turned into one big moneymaker for the cops.
There are innumerable horror stories of how the cops have used the drug war to steal — I mean, seize — people’s property and convert the property to the cops’ own use. This past Monday’s issue of the Boston Herald relates a recent horror story about asset-forfeiture abuse.
The article stated that Logan International Airport cops spent $300,000 for a fleet of brand new SUVs, along with couches and other furniture and flat-screen TVs. To pay for the items, they used the drug-war money they had seized from people.
One of the downsides, from the standpoint of representative government, is that the drug-war seizures help police departments to become self-funding fiefdoms and, therefore, not so dependent on the city councils that budget their money. In 2009 Troop F, the unit that bought those SUVs and other items, seized $1.5 million, up from $500,000 in 2009. No doubt the cops are going to make certain that that number continues to go up.
State police spokesman David Procopio expressed his belief that the seized money should be left in the hands of Troop F because they’re the ones who seized it. By the way, the federal government gets to keep 20 percent of the loot, without even lifting a finger.
Michigan cops went after a guy based on information that he had one stem of marijuana in his house. What was the cops’ motive in busting him? Well, one possibility was that they were simply concerned about the man’s health and well-being and wanted to prevent him from smoking that one stem of marijuana. Another possibility, however, is that they were interested in the man’s very expensive musical equipment, DVDs, computers, and other electronics. The cops seized it all. Unbeknownst to them, however, there was an open mic that recorded their excitement over all the goodies they were seizing. The recording is posted on Balko’s site.
I ask you: What are the chances that any of these cops, state or federal, would ever call for an end to what is quite possibly the most deadly, destructive, corrupt, and failed government program in history?
The chances are nil. The drug war is a cash cow for public officials, not only in terms of bribes but also asset seizures. It has been for decades. They’re not about to give it up, at least not without a fierce fight.
Of course, public officials would never admit that the reason they fight for the continuation of the drug war is out of self-interest. They have to continue playing the game, piously claiming that the only reason they favor the continuation of the drug war is so that they can finally, once and for all after several decades, shut down the drug lords.
What the cops don’t realize (or maybe some of them do) is that the only way to shut down the drug lords, immediately, is to end the drug war by legalizing drugs. Continuing to wage the drug war only ensures that the drug lords will continue supplying drugs and that the cops will continue making busts, and that both groups will continue making beaucoup bucks off the war, which is really what the drug war is all about.
Jacob Hornberger is founder and president of The Future of Freedom Foundation.