|The Declarer (Floyd McWilliams' Blog)|
Tuesday, March 04, 2003
Drug War: Interview with a Police Officer
I have been discussing the ramifications of the War On Drugs (WOD) with a Canadian police officer, John A. Gayder. He has started a group called Law Enforcement Against Prohibition (LEAP). It's most prominent American member is Sheriff Bill Masters of San Miguel County, Colorado who has been an elected Libertarian Sheriff since 1980.
John, tell me a little about your police career?
I am a currently serving Constable with the Niagara Parks Police Service in Niagara Falls, Canada. Having said that, I need to tell you right off that the opinions I express regarding drug policy reform are strictly my own! They may or may not reflect the official position of my employer.
The policing profession has always been a central part of my life. My late father was a career police officer who rose through the ranks to eventually become a Chief of Police. My sister was a police matron for a time. I grew up in a policing household. I was hired in June of 1989 and have almost exclusively worked uniform patrol, which I consider to be the best job in the whole field of policing. I am also a certified health and safety worker representative and am the services rope rescue team instructor and coordinator. A partial c.v. is viewable on the web. (http://www.vaxxine.com/scon/jagcv.htm)
What is your opinion on the war on drugs? What made you come to that conclusion?
The war on drugs is classic proof that the road to hell is paved with good intentions. It is a noble idea to not want people to ruin their lives through drug abuse. Unfortunately, the way society continues to go about achieving that aim via the WOD is not working. In fact it is making things worse. Almost everything we hate about drugs is a result of them being illegal.
I came to this conclusion via a lot of different evidence. I had seen people take drugs in public and high school and they didn't go nuts and start killing or raping folks. When I was about 8 yrs-old a very close family member of mine was arrested for international trafficking in narcotics. Naturally his actions were very unpopular within the family. It was a bad time - lots of anguish and embarrassment. Yet to me he was still someone who I loved unconditionally. I couldn't understand why he was in trouble for buying the oil of a plant. He hadn't hurt anybody or stole something. I had another relative who became addicted to FDA approved, Doctor prescribed happy pills that ruined her life - yet the Doctor worked out a full career and then retired to Miami. After I became a police officer, I saw more first hand examples that confirmed the laws weren't working.
What do you think about drugs being used as self medication?
This speaks to the heart of the very important question; why do people take drugs. The situation of people in chronic physical pain through injury or disease using drugs to relieve it speaks for itself and is a no brainer. We desperately need to stop interfering with these people. We are not helping them by arresting them.
The deeper question involves recreational drug use by seemingly otherwise healthy individuals. I'm no scientist, but I believe many people use drugs and alcohol to alleviate a whole host of what are widely referred to as anxiety problems. Whether the severity of these anxieties warrants drug use versus cognitive therapy, or better yet prevention, is a valid question. Another thing I wish I knew more about was whether or not these anxieties are part of a self-perpetuating cycle caused by drug addiction itself, or whether people are masking over a mental trauma or pathology. It may be a chicken or the egg scenario. I guess looking at it on a case by case basis would be the best approach, but our current response involves helping all the case subjects by arresting and then fining or imprisoning them. I wish there was more research in this area, although the point is kind of moot as far I am concerned& who the hell is society to tell people what they can or cant do to themselves, so long as they don't hurt others?
If you could say anything to all the children who have broken families due to non violent, drug related, law violating, what would you tell them?
Been there and done it. If its a case involving a hopeless addict who is unable to care for themselves and has sold everything in the house to buy drugs, I tell the kids that the person is ill. I tell them that their sickness has made them do crazy things. In some ways, that is the easiest situation to deal with.
The worse situation occurs when you are partnered with a gung-ho officer who insists on arresting a mom or dad in front of their children after he finds a small bit of marijuana or blow. What the hell can you say to a kid then? It is beyond hollow to tell them that their folks arent really bad people, its just that they've broken the law. What does that tell a kid about their parents? What does it tell them about the law? Its the police that are breaking the home up in that case. What a mess.
Tell a bit about LEAP. What is your member base? We started up in March of 2002. We recruit current and former members of law enforcement who believe the current drug policies have failed in their intended goals of addressing the problems of crime, drug abuse, addiction, juvenile drug use, stopping the flow of illegal drugs and the internal sale and use of illegal drugs.
The mission of LEAP is:
(1) To educate the public, the media, and policy makers, to the failure of current drug policy by presenting a true picture of the history, causes and effects of drug abuse and the crimes related to drug prohibition;
(2) To create a speakers bureau staffed with knowledgeable and articulate former drug-warriors who describe the impact of current drug policies on: police/community relations; the safety of law enforcement officers and suspects; police corruption and misconduct; and the financial and human costs associated with current drug policies;
(3) To restore the publics respect for law enforcement that has been diminished by its involvement in imposing drug prohibition;
(4) To reduce the multitude of harms resulting from fighting the war on drugs and to lessen the incidence of death, disease, crime and addiction by ultimately ending drug prohibition.
We went public with www.leap.cc in July and in eight months have gained over three hundred members. LEAP has twenty-five speakers scattered among 15 states of the U.S., and in Canada Australia, Colombia, and England. Concerned citizens who have no law enforcement background have also joined us as Friends of LEAP. We have had little time to recruit members because our directors and speakers were immediately invited to speak at international drug policy conferences in Albania, Austria, Belgium, Costa Rica, Italy, Mexico, Russia, and the United States. By the end of May 2003, we will have also conducted at least 82 speaking appearances at business, civic, benevolent, and religious organizations, as well as at universities and colleges.
What is the biggest obstacle preventing officers from changing their minds about the drug war?
Except for the most ardent drug warriors, a large percentage of officers will privately admit that the war on drugs is flop. Their minds don't need changing, they just need motivation and an outlet to do something about it enter LEAP.
For those who understand the failure of the WOD, there are a few factors at play that keeps them from admitting it publicly or doing anything about it.
Firstly, the policing profession is a paramilitary environment. There is a rank structure. Those wanting to climb the rank ladder require the approval of those above them on the ladder before they are allowed onto the next rung. Achieving and maintaining each position on the ladder is somewhat dependent upon toeing the line. (As an aside, I feel this requirement for conformity is a major, though hidden cause of work related stress for officers: knowing something is one way but having to say it is another is not good for your psycho-emotional health.)
Anyway, I guess the biggest obstacle to be overcome is to get officers to think about the consequences of the WOD in relation to the way it negatively affects their profession. Like Ben Franklin said, logic is often not the best persuader self interest is. Unconvinced officers need to see the harms to their image and profession that the inherently contrary nature of the WOD is creating.
(c) M. Simon - All rights reserved.