The Orange County Register Hits Another Home-Run Editorial of the War on Drugs
The unwinnable war
July 8, 1998
It's tragic when an officer sworn to uphold the law turns to breaking it. That might have happened in the case of Richard W. Parker, an agent of the state Bureau of Narcotic Enforcement. He allegedly tried to distribute 26 pounds of cocaine worth $285,000. The San Juan Capistrano resident was arrested in Pasadena as he collected $47,000 of what was believed to be a payment. Another $100,000 was found in the trunk of his car.
It must be emphasized that Mr. Parker is innocent until proven guilty. As the Register reported, "After his arrest on Thursday, Parker denied any knowledge of drugs... ." Also, most police officers are not involved in such illegal activities.
But incidents such as this one raise a broader issue: the need to look at alternatives to the costly "war" on drugs.
Because what is essentially a medical problem abuse of drugs has been treated as a criminal problem, the "war" on drugs has caused collateral damage throughout American society. One example is the occasional corruption of police officers at all levels of government.
"Of course it's a small number officers involved," Joseph McNamara told us; he's a former chief of police in San Jose and now is a research fellow at the Hoover Institution, where he's writing a book on police and drug corruption. "But the sheer amount of money indicates there will always be some cops who can't turn down the temptation. It's more money than they'll ever accumulate working 30 years for their pension. The profit markup can be 17,000 percent."
The problem is a political one, he said. "The politicians have declared this war. The cops have been pushed into a war they can't win. What happens to some officers is they see that it's hopeless, so they rationalize their own behavior, saying, 'Why should "the enemy" get to keep all the money.' "
Another problem, Chief McNamara said, is the waste of public resources. "Because of the drug hysteria, for most police agencies in the United States it's their No. 1 priority. Money that could protect women and children from violence went to arrest more than 640,000 marijuana smokers last year." He estimates that for law enforcement at the federal, state and local levels the cost of the "war" is approximately $40 billion a year.
Another fallout from the "war" on drugs is more widespread than the corruption of some officers. "Once you're in the mentality that it's a holy war, then you'll get wholesale violations of rights," he said. "It has corrupted the police ranks not only in the case you're talking about, but it affects the oath police take to protect constitutional rights. The drug laws are basically unenforceable because they involve voluntary transactions. So police get involved in using informants and conducting searches that aren't justified. The war mentality creates this sense of crisis, because there are no halfway measures in a war. You have to win. But you can't win this war."
Chief McNamara favors declaring victory in the "war" on drugs and shifting the money from enforcing unenforceable drug laws to the medical treatment of drug users. That's a sensible prescription for restoring a sense of balance to law enforcement in America and an essential step toward reducing the temptation to corruption.