THE BLOG

President's Task Force on 21st Century Policing

02/17/2015 12:31 pm ET | Updated Apr 19, 2015
Dave Thompson/PA Wire

Law Enforcement Against Prohibition (LEAP) is an organization of active and retired soldiers in the war on drugs - police, prosecutors, judges, federal agents, undercover narcotics officers and other criminal justice professionals who, after decades of experience as enforcers of these erroneous laws, now oppose them. We do this because the consequences of the drug war are far worse than drug use itself.

The President's Task Force on 21st Century Policing was enacted by executive order in December 2014. Its purpose is to identify best practices and make recommendations to the president that would ultimately lower crime rates, build trust and cultivate stronger relationships between police and their communities. LEAP has two recommendations for the task force: To end the war on drugs in the U.S. and to jointly push for an amendment to the three United Nations Drug-Control Treaties that serve as the fountainhead for the global war on drugs. We call upon the task force to recognize that drugs should no longer be treated as a criminal issue, but rather understood to be a public health issue to be dealt with by doctors and mental health professionals. The new drug policy paradigm values patient rights, public safety, improved community relations with police and a redirecting of police resources to more important matters.

Cops aren't doctors, and people who abuse drugs have greater need for medical help than police help. Cancer, schizophrenia and eating disorders are all treated with medical and psychological attention, not imprisonment. People addicted to tobacco are offered treatment options from the local convenience store, yet the primary solution to hard drug addiction has been to isolate and punish, as if being punished for psychological distress were ever considered effective, let alone humane.

Policing today is focused on enforcing moral behavior, which, regardless of one's opinions about legislating and enforcing personal behavior, has had devastating consequences. Profits and property are subject to seizure through civil forfeiture laws, which incentivize police to seize assets without ever charging someone with a crime. The federal government also incentivizes high numbers of drug arrests with monetary rewards to the department via the Edward Byrne Memorial Justice Assistance Grant Program. The rate of solving violent crimes has plummeted, as more police are deployed to stop drug deals rather than to investigate a theft or assault call. Resources would be better spent helping victims of violent crimes see justice.

The use of mind-altering substances was not a crime until America and the rest of the world made it one, and then with fickle selectivity and poor judgment. Once upon a time (c.1650), Sultan Murad IV of the Ottoman Empire made smoking tobacco a crime punishable by the death penalty. In the 1920s and 30s, America and other countries made it a crime to sell alcohol. This quickly failed, and regulated, legal alcohol sales displaced the Al Capones and the gang businesses of that era. In June of 1971, Nixon declared what we know as the drug war, and named drugs "public enemy #1." People like Pablo Escobar replaced Al Capone. Marijuana, cocaine and other drugs replaced alcohol, as new cartels flourished in an increasingly profitable illegal marketplace.

American street gangs prove we cannot have safe streets and drug prohibition. When competing drug gangs fight over lucrative turf and battle police trying to stop their operations, violence escalates, guns get bigger and deadlier, and people become the enemy, and are treated as such, further engendering disrespect between communities and cops. Good people who give information to the police are often victims of brutal acts of violence to send a message of intimidation, as well as to punish. The militarization of local police and the use of increasing force (battering rams, tanks, smoke and concussion grenades, assault weapons, etc.) make police the enemy to those families. Public trust in law enforcement can be restored by ending drug prohibition and returning to the traditional "serve and protect" policing mission.

The surest way to improve the quality of policing, the relationships between them and their communities, and overall public safety in this country and beyond, is to bring an end to this policy disaster. Law Enforcement Against Prohibition recommends that the President's Task Force on 21st Century Policing bring an end to the failed drug war, and institute new policies based in research and compassion.