I hope you aren’t raped or shot today. There’s a good chance the police won’t have your back. Fifty years ago there was a likelihood of over 90 percent that a murder would lead to an arrest and despite tremendous advances in technology, today there’s a one in three chance that your case will go unsolved (and much worse in communities of color). The police are no better at solving rapes than in the 1970’s: there’s only a 24 percent chance that an arrest will be made. We spend more than $100 billion annually on police and this is the return. More alarming, in the month of March 2015, American police killed more citizens than police in the UK have since 1900. Cops aren’t solving crimes and making us safe but they are chasing nonsense and doing plenty of shooting. This is what the War on Drugs has wrought.
Policing isn’t about protecting citizens or solving crimes because the War on Drugs has prioritized drug enforcement. It has also changed the business model for police departments. Starting in the 1980’s the federal government began handing out huge cash grants and military equipment to local police departments, in exchange for making drug enforcement a top priority. Further, federal law also allowed police departments to seize cash and assets in drug cases- even without a conviction- for their own use. It only made sense for departments across the country to go full throttle on nonsense. There are serious consequences to these misaligned priorities. While the Drug War continues its all-out assault on communities of color, resources aren’t available for things that actually matter.
Violence toward women matters, or at least it should. While we pretend to care about the issue, over 400,000 rape kits across the country are yet untested, even as arrests in rape cases are anemic. The reason is that testing is expensive and rape investigations require a lot of work. Unfortunately, federal dollars dictate that time and money must be spent on finding marijuana joints, instead. Murder matters but During Michael Bloomberg’s tenure as New York mayor, 1 million police hours were spent making 440,000 marijuana possession arrests. By the end of Bloomberg’s term, residents of affluent Manhattan South could expect one homicide detective per murder case while residents of Brooklyn North had only one detective per five cases. After New York cops spent one million hours disproportionately arresting people of color for marijuana offenses, 86 percent of 2013 homicides involving a white victim were solved while only 45 percent of murders with a black victim and 56 percent of murders involving a Hispanic victim were.
Since federal money is flowing toward drugs, police are trying to protect their business by blocking any meaningful drug policy reforms. For example, some California legislators are attempting to slow drug overdose deaths, a national epidemic. Following the example of Vancouver, California would allow for clinics where addicts using controlled substances would be supervised and offered medical intervention. A radical idea but one that actually works. Safe injection sites have been shown to significantly reduce overdose deaths and have saved Vancouver millions. None of this matters to the law enforcement community there. They would rather waste millions and see more overdose deaths simply to keep their business intact. This is where the War on Drugs has taken us.
Fundamentally, drug enforcement makes us unsafe and takes away resources from policing activities that would truly benefit us. Arresting marijuana smokers doesn’t make us safe; it does the exact opposite. Police feel compelled to resist reform in order to protect their business model and funding streams. But look more carefully and you’ll see that the issue isn’t the local police department. As noted above, it was federal policy and incentives that lured the police to this new norm. If we do not demand a new course in federal drug policy, we opt for a world where our women are raped with impunity and depending on zip code, our murders don’t matter.