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Milton Friedman on the Drug War

100 years ago, the great champion of liberty, Milton Friedman, was born.  Thus, it is  an appropriate day to recall some of his words about the American criminal justice system, particularly the drug war.



Here is Dr. Friedman’s foreword to my book, After Prohibition:

This book contains revised versions of papers given at a conference on “Beyond Prohibition: An Adult approach to Drug Policies in the 21st Century,” held at the Cato Institute on October 5, 1999. The papers presented range widely over all aspects of current drug policy. The final two chapters record a debate held at the conference on whetherAmerica should legalize drugs.

Whatever your view about that issue, I believe that you cannot read this book without recognizing the social tragedy that has resulted from the attempt to prohibit people from ingesting an arbitrary list of substances designated “illegal drugs.” That list includes marijuana, for which there is no recorded case of human death from overdose in several thousand years of use and which has important medicinal uses, but excludes alcohol, which also has important medicinal uses but for which the annual death toll in theUnited Statesalone is measured in the tens if not hundreds of thousands. Not since the collapse of the attempt to prohibit the ingestion of alcohol has our liberty been in such danger from the misnamed “war on drugs.”

How can there be a war on drugs? Can there be a war on stones, on buildings, on aspirin? Surely, wars are on living, not inanimate, objects. And this war is being waged on people. Like every war, it is being waged in wanton disregard of “Life,Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness”-“unalienable rights” with which we are endowed by our Creator, according to the Declaration of Independence.

As a nation, we have been destroying foreign countries because we cannot enforce our own laws. As a nation, we have been responsible for the murder of literally hundreds of thousands of people at home and abroad by fighting a war that should never have been started and can be won, if at all, only by converting theUnited Statesinto a police state. The annual arrest of nearly a million and a half people suspected of a drug offense, most of them for simple possession of small quantities, is frightening evidence of how far along that road we have already gone. So too is the overcrowding of our prisons, despite an unprecedented increase in capacity, leading to the release of persons convicted of violent crimes in order to make room for persons convicted of a drug offense and given minimum required sentences. Minimum required sentences that are sometimes so harsh that at least one judge has resigned rather than be the instrument for imposing cruel and inhumane punishment, and numerous other judges have registered strong protests (see chapter 8). So too is the fact, noted by Nova University law professor Steven Wisotsky, that “law enforcement officials-now joined by the military forces of the United States-have the power, with few limits, to snoop, sniff, survey, and detain, without warrant or probable cause, in the war against drug trafficking. Property may be seized on slight evidence and forfeited to the state or federal government without proof of the personal guilt of the owner….[and] and increasingly imperial federal government has applied intimidating pressures to shop owners and others in the private sector to help implement federal drug policy.

Why is it that laws against the ingestion of a class of substances have proved to be so much greater a threat to our freedom than laws against theft, assault, and murder? The answer is simple. Persons who have been harmed by theft, assault, and murder have a strong incentive to report the crime to law enforcement officials. There is a clear and evident victim. Enforcement of the law is a cooperative enterprise that enlists the assistance of the persons harmed.

By contrast, when a willing seller and a willing buyer transfer a substance that has been designated illegal, no one has an incentive to report what the law in its majesty has declared a crime. NO on has a direct incentive to cooperate with law enforcement officials. Evidence must be obtained in other ways, such as the use of informers-a practice that every totalitarian state has engaged in when it made it a crime to hold or publish the “wrong” beliefs, a crime that willing participants have no incentive to report. The Nazis and the Communists alike encouraged children to spy on and report their parents for “crimes against the state,” and so does the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency (see chapter 10).

The lack of anyone who has a direct incentive to report an offense is also the reason drug enforcers are driven to warrantless searches, seizures of property without due process, and all of the other violations of civil liberties that have become so common in the relentless prosecution of the drug war.

The high financial stakes enhance the danger to our liberty. The produce widespread corruption, which requires the use of ever more resources to monitor the monitors, and enable drug dealers to finance armies and arms not obviously inferior to the armies and arms of the drug warriors. Only the well-financed and well-armed drug dealers can survive, with the ironic result that our drug enforcement efforts protect the major drug cartels from competition-more effectively than the OPEC cartel was ever able to protect itself from competition!

Law enforcement agencies are major beneficiaries of the drug war at the same time that law enforcement is a major victim. The agencies benefit from the many billions of dollars spent on pursuing the drug war and from the proceeds of forfeiture, an increasingly attractive and lucrative source of funds. Law enforcement suffers because the attempt to enforce laws against victimless crime breaks the link between law enforcers and the community; widespread corruption engendered by the vast sums at stake destroys the trust between police and public that is essential for the proper enforcement of the law (see chapter 7). Moreover, though total expenditures on law enforcement has increased greatly, so large a fraction goes to the drug war that less is available to enforce the laws against theft, assault and murder.

The Declaration of Independence tells us that “governments are instituted among men” in order “to secure” “certain unalienable rights” and that “whenever any form of government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the right of the people to alter or abolish it.” A nanny government has become destructive of these ends. It is past time that we alter it.

Milton Friedman
Hoover Institute
Stanford, California
September 8, 2000

Ever so slowly, policymakers are starting to come around on this subject.  

Police organizations too!  More here and here

For more info about the legacy of Milton Friedman, check out the Cato Institute home page.

National Police Misconduct NewsFeed Daily Recap 07-27-12

Here are the 16 reports of police misconduct tracked for Friday, July 27, 2012:

  • Bexar County, Texas: Two K-9s died after an officer left them in a hot patrol car overnight.
  • Wilmington, North Carolina: A state trooper was placed on leave amid accusations of criminal behavior.
  • Maricopa, Arizona: An officer was fired for having sex with a married woman while he was on-duty. “I want to ensure the residents as soon as we found out about the conduct it was investigated very quickly and it was handled very quickly,” said the police chief.
  • Tukwila, Washington: The police agreed to pay $33,500 to settle a civil rights lawsuit that alleged a man was pepper-sprayed, handcuffed, and left to sit in agony. The police officer who was accused was also involved in a taser incident that resulted in the city paying $12,500 three years ago.
  • Franklin, Indiana: The County Sheriff said that a detective was suspended because he was filing incorrect mileage reports. A GPS was placed in his car when his mileage was called into question, and it showed that he was falsifying his reports.
  • Trenton, Pennsylvania: A police officer was suspended without pay for sleeping in his patrol car. He was in uniform and carrying a gun. A passerby took a photo and posted it online. The incident is “dangerous to the city whether the officer is working or not,” said the City Police Director
  • St. Louis, Missouri: An officer was arrested and accused of assaulting a handcuffed suspect.
  • Chicago, Illinois: A paraplegic man says that two officers threw him down and pepper-sprayed him because he was videoing them with his cell phone. The suit says the officers “did not have a reasonable basis for using the amounts of force used against the plaintiff.”
  • Seattle, Washington: A man filed suit against the officer who pulled a gun on him while in plain clothes. The officer got angry that the man parked in his way.
  • Update: Leominster, Massachusetts: The officer who yelled a racial slur at one of the outfielders at a Sox game was fired.
  • Chicago, Illinois: A woman has filed suit against the police department. She says they tasered her husband, causing him to fall and injure his brain. He is still in a coma more than a year later.
  • Update: Boston, Massachusetts: An officer who was drunk-driving and hit another car, severely injuring the woman driving, is now being charged with operating under the influence, causing serious injury, reckless operation of a motor vehicle, and civil infractions.
  • Cedar Rapids, Iowa: A man who was arrested died in the back of the police cruiser he was being held in. The investigation is pending.
  • Wrightstown, New Jersey: An former police officer was accused of destroying a computer hard drive to throw off agents investigating allegations he possessed child pornography.
  • Atlanta, Georgia: An officer was charged in the death of a woman after a crash. He is on paid leave pending investigation.
  • Tompkinsville, Kentucky: A police officer was convicted of first degree sexual assault toward a girl younger than twelve.


Rethinking Police Shooting Policies

Steven Greenhut:

I covered one police shooting in Anaheim in 2008. A 20-year-old newlywed stepped outside his house with a wooden rod in his hand after hearing a ruckus nearby. Police had been chasing a robbery suspect, and when the young man came out of his house, they shot him to death. Even Police Chief John Welter, who still leads the department, said the man “was innocent of anything that the officer thought was going on in that neighborhood.” Yet, apparently, nothing has changed since then.

While Anaheim has a greater need than some other cities to re-evaluate its policing policies, problems with police use-of-force problem are endemic throughout the country and, especially, in California, where police union priorities – i.e., what’s best for officers, not the citizenry – have dominated policy decisions for decades.

Recent news reports show a significant increase in police-involved shootings in many areas of California. Police shootings account for one of every 10 shooting deaths in Los Angeles County, according to a Los Angeles Times report. Videotapes of the encounters often show that the official version of the story is at odds with what really happened. No wonder police agencies spend so much time confiscating video cameras from bystanders, something that should chill every freedom-loving American, whether on the political Left or Right.

The California Supreme Court’s Copley Press v. San Diego decision in 2006 allows allegations of police misconduct to remain shrouded in secrecy. The public can access complaints against doctors, lawyers and other professionals but, in California, misbehavior by public employees who have the legal right to use deadly force often is off-limits to scrutiny. Because of an exemption in the public-records act, police agencies need not release most details of their reports of officer-involved shootings.

Furthermore, the Peace Officers Procedural Bill of Rights in California’s Government Code gives accused officers such strong protections that officers can rarely be disciplined or fired. The “code of silence” is alive and well in police agencies.

Most police department citizen-review panels are toothless. We should never condone violent protests, but it’s not hard to understand the recent frustration in central Anaheim. What if it were your child or your neighbor’s child?


National Police Misconduct NewsFeed Daily Recap 07-26-12

Here are the 10 reports of police misconduct tracked for Thursday, July 26, 2012:

  • Chicago, Illinois: A man who was shot in the chest by police while riding his bike is filing suit. He claims that he was unarmed when it happened. The lawsuit says that the officers also used excessive force when he was handcuffed and had fallen to the ground.
  • Kenyon, Minnesota: A lawsuit was filed against a state trooper and a police chief, alleging they slammed the plaintiff into a wall and hit him in the face, giving him a nosebleed, while taking him into custody.
  • Wilcox County, Georgia: Jailer admitted he was present when several people, including the then-Wilcox County Sheriff Stacy Bloodsworth and his son, assaulted three inmates. He also admitted he and others were present when Bloodsworth concocted a false story in order to cover up the fact that law enforcement officials and others had used excessive force against three inmates.
  • Chicago, Illinois: A man filed an excessive force lawsuit against an officer, alleging that he was assaulted during an arrest, and saying that the city ignored warnings of a pattern of rogue policing.
  • New Britain, Connecticut: An internal affairs report just released says that the now retired police captain was having sex while on duty for years, even while he was working overtime. “The behavior described in the report was unacceptable,” said the interim Police Chief. “We are public servants and should be held accountable when we engage in inappropriate activity as documented in that investigative report.”
  • Anderson, California: An officer pleaded not guilty to two felony counts of possessing child porn, one felony for unauthorized use of a computer, and one misdemeanor for annoying a child. His wife is a teacher at the local school, and a former student says that he frequently took pictures of them in her classroom.
  • Pueblo, Colorado: A bar patron is suing the officer who, he says, used excessive force when he was tased twice after the officer had already knocked him to the ground. The incident started after the patron asked the officer to stop harassing his friends.
  • Los Angeles, California: Former Miss Nevada has filed suit against Los Angeles police officers. She says that the police wrongly raided her home in the middle of the night, and then forced her to get out of bed naked while they openly stared. She said that they then joked about the mistake when they finally realized they had the wrong house.
  • Pickett County, Tennessee: A former state trooper has pleaded guilty to five criminal counts stemming from a sexual assault investigation, and was sentenced to eight years in jail.
  • Philadelphia, Pennsylvania: Witnesses say an officer shot a man in the head, without warning, from the inside of his car. An investigation is now underway. Police Commissioner Thomas Wright said “We’re not going to tolerate any improper behavior by police officers…. If there’s anything we need to do that needs to be corrected, we’ll ensure that happens.”


National Police Misconduct NewsFeed Daily Recap 07-25-12

Here are the 10 stories of police misconduct tracked for Wednesday, June 25, 2012:

  • Update: Chicago, IL: The police officer accused of beating a 19-year-old while he was handcuffed was found guilty of aggravated battery and official misconduct. The incident was caught on tape.
  • New Orleans, Louisiana: Three New Orleans officers were implicated in misconduct incidents. One was taking funds from a nonprofit illegally. She is scheduled to be sentenced in October. Another was arrested for writing a worthless check. The third was booked for a DWI.
  • Franklin Park, Illinois: An off-duty sheriff’s deputy was charged with an aggravated DUI after a fatal crash. He was taken into custody after the crash.
  • Huntsville, Alabama: The Dash-Cam video released by police shows the incident that cost an officer his job. He is now appealing his termination.
  • Prince George County, Maryland: An officer was sentenced to almost four years in prison for his role in protecting shipments of untaxed cigarettes and alcohol. “It degrades what we expect from people we put in positions of trust,” said the Assistant U.S. Attorney. “We have to show law enforcement that you can’t do this and walk away.” The scheme is said to have cost the government, and taxpayers, about $2.8 million.
  • Los Angeles, California: An officer was sentenced to four years in prison for abusing suspects with pepper spray and a stun gun.
  • Coral Gables, Florida: An officer was arrested after allegedly attacking his girlfriend by pushing her against a door and biting her. He was relieved of duty pending criminal charges.
  • Vohees, Township, New Jersey: A police officer has been accused of misusing police database information about a woman in order to ‘friend’ her on Facebook.
  • Gwinnett County, Georgia: A deputy accused of sexually assaulting an inmate confessed his guilt. He is now being charged in court.
  • Chicago, Illinois: The City Council signed off on settlements in 2 lawsuits totaling $7.17 million filed by men who allege they were victims of police torturing. One man will receive $5 million after he said police tortured him for 4 days before he confessed to murder. He served 23 years and was then exonerated.


National Police Misconduct NewsFeed Daily Recap 07-24-12

Here are the 7 reports of police misconduct tracked for Tuesday, July 24, 2012:

  • Memphis, Tennessee: An officer was charged with driving while intoxicated after he was involved in a crash.
  • Paso Robles, California: A woman is suing the police department for burns she sustained on her arm. She alleges they held her against hot asphalt, even after she told them it was burning her.
  • Reading, Pennsylvania: An officer stole nearly $5000 from a local law enforcement association. He turned in his resignation the day the allegations came to light.
  • Update: Berlin Borough, New Jersey: The police chief has been cleared in a domestic dispute involving his wife that led to criminal charges against him.
  • Minneapolis, Minnesota: Victims of Metro Gang Strike Force were awarded sums ranging from $300 to $75,000. The now discontinued strike force was conducting illegal searches, seizures and use of excessive force against citizens, including a dozen juveniles.
  • Jefferson City, Missouri: An ex-policewoman pleaded guilty to charges of driving while intoxicated, leaving the scene of an accident, and careless imprudent driving. She resigned from the department after the incident.
  • Westchester, Illinois: A state trooper was charged with two counts of first-degree murder after he shot and killed a woman in what appeared to be a domestic dispute. “I can confirm that an ISP off-duty officer was involved in an early morning shooting,” said Monique Bond, the Illinois State Police spokesperson. “The officer has been relieved of powers and remains in the custody of the Westchester Police Department.”


National Police Misconduct Newsfeed Daily Recap 07-21-12 to 07-23-12

Here are the 10 reports of police misconduct tracked for Saturday, July 21 to Monday, July 23, 2012:

  • Las Vegas, Nevada: A police officer was sentenced to a three-year deferred sentence and has to pay a $3000 fine for felony criminal endangerment for driving drunk at high speeds.
  • San Antonio, Texas: A police officer, who has already been suspended 15 times, received the department’s harshest punishment, tantamount to being fired, for the third time. This time the punishment was for alleged racial slurs.
  • Sapulpa, Oklahoma: 2 Mounds officers admitted to stealing $5,000 each from a purse that a woman turned over to the department.
  • Enfield, Connecticut: A state trooper was arrested for operating a vehicle while under the influence. He was off-duty.
  • West Pittston, Pennsylvania: The former and current police chiefs were arraigned on felony charges for stealing $40,000 from taxpayers. “As I stand here in a uniform, it’s very difficult for me to defend anybody in uniform. We are supposed to be someone the public can trust and look up to,” trooper spokesperson Tom Kelly said. “It’s sad. It seems like, this area, the corruption has gone through the roof.”
  • Boston, Massachusetts: The police officer who crashed into another car and nearly killed a woman while drunk driving was let off without any charges.
  • Fresno, California: A police officer is under investigation for date-rape charges. Though the investigation is still ongoing, the police chief revoked his badge, gun, and power to make an arrest.
  • Bakersfield, California: An officer has been accused of withholding stolen property from a theft victim, and demanding sex from her in exchange for returning her property. The BPD spokesman says the department is as disappointed as anyone about the officer’s alleged actions.
  • Springfield, Oregon: An officer pleaded no contest to a drunk driving charge, and was allowed to be placed in a diversion program. The misdemeanor charge will be dismissed in July 2013 if he completes the program.
  • Saginaw, Michigan: A state trooper was charged in connection with a crash that occurred and ended up injuring another officer. He was charged with a felony count of carrying a concealed weapon and two misdemeanor traffic offenses.


National Police Misconduct Newsfeed Daily Recap 07-20-12

Here are the 12 reports of police misconduct tracked for Friday, July 20, 2012:

  • Poland, Pennsylvania: A man who was involved in a police chase after officers tried to pull him over for speeding and a broken tail light died when he crashed.
  • Update: Saugus, Massachusetts: Charges against a police officer who was pulled over for drunken driving might be dropped because the officers who arrested him failed to give him a proper field sobriety test.
  • St. Louis County, Illinois: A family has called into question the death of their daughter, who was in a patrol car when she was shot in the head and killed.
  • Austin, Texas: An officer was suspended for slamming a man’s head onto the hood of a car while arresting him.
  • Pleasanton, California: A police officer pleaded not guilty to charges that he accessed and shared confidential information.
  • Union City, New Jersey: A Union City Police officer is suing the Little Ferry Police department. He claims malicious prosecution, false arrest, defamation per se and loss of consortium over his arrest and handling of his complaints.
  • Chicago, Illinois: Two men say that they were unarmed and their vehicle was stopped outside a store when officers opened fire at “close range,” according to the lawsuit filed.
  • Indianapolis, Indiana: A police officer involved in a 4-hour standoff faces 30 criminal counts. The charges filed include stalking, battery and invasion of privacy.
  • Lee County, Florida: An officer was let off the hook for drunk driving his patrol car. A witness of his driving, who called in and reported the incident, said “to me that shows a double standard.”
  • Colwyn, Pennsylvania: A police officer has 15 active warrants against her from the past eight years for failing to respond to or failing to pay numerous traffic violations. Her license has been suspended at least 17 times for a total of more than 500 days, and twice she paid fees with a bad check. The police chief said that he performed a background check but was unaware of any of the warrants of license suspensions.
  • Industry, Pennsylvania: A police chief was charged with misapplication of entrusted property for stealing from the police department’s bank account that was appropriated for the K-9 unit.
  • Kansas City, Missouri: An officer was fired after 5 years of delays. The police board voted unanimously to fire him after his handling of a handcuffed drug suspect in 2006. Police board members said “he used excessive force, unnecessary profanity and engaged in cruel, degrading, or inhumane treatment.”


Anaheim Shooting Brings Protests, Which, In Turn, Bring Still More Police Controversy

From the Washington Post:

As officers were investigating what happened at the scene, Dunn said an angry group of people began yelling and throwing bottles at them. He said that as officers detained several people, the crowd advanced on the officers so they fired tear gas and beanbag rounds at them.

Video captured by a KCAL-TV crew showed a chaotic scene in which officers fired beanbag rounds as some people ducked to the ground and others scattered screaming. A man is seen yelling at an officer even as a weapon is pointed at him; two adults huddled to shield a boy and girl. Meanwhile, a police dog ran into several people sitting on the grass, including a woman and a child in a stroller, before biting a man in the arm.

Dunn said the dog somehow got out of a patrol car and was “deployed accidentally.”

Throughout the night, police in multiple marked and unmarked squad cars attempted to control an unruly crowd gathered near the shooting scene, the Register reported.

Some in the crowd moved a Dumpster into an intersection and set its trash on fire on at least three separate occasions, while officers kept responding to move it out of the way of traffic.

Dunn said gang detectives are involved in the investigation.

Crystal Ventura, a 17-year-old who witnessed the shooting, told the Register that the man had his back to the officer. Ventura said the man was shot in the buttocks area. The man then went down on his knees, she said, adding that he was struck by another bullet in the head. Ventura said another officer handcuffed the man, who by then was on the ground and not moving.

“They searched his pockets, and there was a hole in his head, and I saw blood on his face,” Ventura told the newspaper.

Dunn said he could not comment on these allegations because the shooting is under investigation.

One reporter said that several witnesses told him that police offered to “purchase” cell phones containing video footage of the bean bag/pellet gun shootings and the “accidentially deployed canine.”   Hmm.

Growing Evidence of Citizen Resistance to Marijuana Law Enforcement?

Ron Bailey blog post:

In Charlottesville, Va. (where I spend most of my time) a jury just found Philip Cobbs not guilty of marijuana possession. As the superb local weekly The Hook reports:

Cobbs, a 54-year-old who takes care of his elderly mother, was arrested last summer after a marijuana eradication helicopter flew over his southeastern Albemarle home and spotted two pot plants near his house. A team of approximately 10 law enforcement agents drove up bearing semi-automatic weapons and confiscated the illegal plants. A month later, he received a summons to court.

His case was taken up by the Albemarle-based Rutherford Institute, which focuses on Constitutional issues. Cobb was convicted of possession in October, and appealed the case.

“I feel like justice finally was done,” said Cobbs after a seven-person jury deliberated for about two hours– including a dinner of Domino’s pizza–July 18.

Two plants and ten officers? Really? Evidently aware of the inherent stupidity of the case, the local prosecutor feared jury nullification. The Hook reports how he attempted to forestall that problem:

Before the jury was selected, prosecutor Matthew Quatrara read the opening paragraph of a New York Times Paul Butler op-ed calling for jury nullification: “If you are ever on a jury in a marijuana case, I recommend that you vote ‘not guilty’– even if you think the defendant actually smoked pot, or sold it to another consenting adult. As a juror, you have this power under the Bill of Rights; if you exercise it, you become part of a proud tradition of American jurors who helped make our laws fairer.”

That, instructed Quatrara, would not be the proper attitude for those chosen to serve on the jury.

Nevertheless, the judge and prosecutor had a tough time actually seating a jury in this case. The Hook interviewed several people who had been cut from the jury pool on the grounds that they disapproved of criminalizing marijuana use:

“I think this whole thing is a waste of time,” said Richard Merkel, a psychiatrist and potential juror in today’s marijuana possession trial against an Albemarle County man.

Merkel was among five people struck from the first group of 13 – all because they had a problem with this country’s criminalization of people using marijuana.

Aware that this attitude is growing among citizens, the judge ordered up a larger than usual jury pool:

This isn’t the first time Albemarle has had trouble seating a jury in a pot case. Judge Cheryl Higgins, who, during a break, chatted with a visiting gaggle of Rutherford Institute interns told them, “The last marijuana case we tried, we couldn’t even seat a jury because they were so biased against the marijuana laws.”

In any case, the jury decided to let Cobbs go on the grounds that while the plants may have been on his property there was reasonable doubt that he had “dominion” over them and so did not “possess” them.

Another potential juror, University of Virginia psychologist Douglas DeGood, was struck from service because said he would not be comfortable convicting someone of marijuana possession. He added: 

“Pragmatically, I don’t think it’s an efficient use of the legal system.” 

You think? And I would like to think that there was just a little bit of jury nullification.

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