Thanks to the drug war, police have much more incentive to go after drug crimes than more heinous crimes.
Earlier this year, men wearing black ski masks whipped out their guns and raided the home of 62-year-old Cathy Jordan, a medical marijuana patient and activist in Florida. They seized 23 of her plants, two of which were mature enough to be used for her medicine. Police officers with the Manatee County Sheriff's Department, the team of armed men, made no arrests, but later charged Jordan and her husband with marijuana cultivation. A district attorney later dropped the case.
In Colorado this year, a 13-person SWAT raid on two medical marijuana users began with a kicked-in door and a flash bang grenade.
"They acted like they were coming for a big terrorist," Chuck Ball, one of the patients, told KRDO. "They came in here, drug me across the kitchen floor and handcuffed me," he said. "They kept telling me to shut up."
According to KRDO, “Ball said the raid was prompted by tips to investigators from his roommate's estranged ex who told police that there was an illegal number of medical marijuana plants in the house."
No charges were filed because the patients were growing a legal amount of medical marijuana.
Strange, isn’t it, that hunches and vague tips about potential marijuana growing (in a state that recently legalized the drug!) is motivation enough to send a SWAT team busting down a door? Compare that to recent reports that police in Cleveland, Ohio ignored years of tips and calls about strange things going on in the home of the three Cleveland men suspected of holding captive, brutally raping and beating three women for nearly a decade.
Before the big break on Monday, neighbors say they knew something was up and claim that they repeatedly called the cops.
The police did not appear concerned; they certainly lacked the enthusiasm many law enforcement officers display when going after drug crimes (and non-crimes):
Elsie Cintron, who lives three houses away, said her daughter once saw a naked woman crawling on her hands and knees in the backyard several years ago and called police. "But they didn't take it seriously," she said.
Another neighbor, Israel Lugo, said he heard pounding on some of the doors of Castro's house, which had plastic bags on the windows, in November 2011. Lugo said officers knocked on the front door, but no one answered. "They walked to the side of the house and then left," he said.
Israel Lugo said he, his family and neighbors called police three times between 2011 and 2012 after seeing disturbing things at the home of Ariel Castro. Lugo lives two houses down from Castro and grew suspicious after neighbors reported seeing naked women on leashes crawling on all fours behind Castro's house.
Lugo said about two years ago his sister told him she heard a woman pounding on a window at Castro's home as if she needed help. When his sister looked up, she saw a woman and a baby standing in a window half covered with a wooden plank. His sister told him and Lugo called the police.
A third call came from neighborhood women who lived in an apartment building. Those women told Lugo they called police because they saw three young girls crawling on all fours naked with dog leashes around their necks. Three men were controlling them in the backyard. The women told Lugo they waited two hours but police never responded to the calls. Still looking it into it, though.
Without proof of the 911 calls, it is hard to say definitively that the Cleveland Police Department failed to properly follow up on tips (and it is assuring the public that it did all it could to find the young women). If the neighbors aren’t making it up, which seems unlikely, there is some explaining to do.
Retired law enforcement veteran Stephen Downing, former captain of detectives in the LAPD, says he has not seen proof that the police officers failed to adequately respond to information in this case; indeed, police cannot possibly crack every case and investigate every angle all the time. At the same time, we must recognize that police are incentivized to go after certain crimes -- like drug crimes -- and not other, far more heinous crimes, like rape.
In the first place, federal cash giveaways make police departments' reactions to drug cases much more swift and severe.
“The statistical demands of the drug war and the grants that come from the federal government --- all they do is incentivize our local police to chase drugs and chase seizures so they can supplement their budgets," Downing said. "We call that 'policing for profit.'”
Furthermore, allowing military training of local police has “turned our police into drug warriors,” instead of “police officers and peace officers.”
“Every police department, every sheriff’s department, and the federal government have personnel that are dedicated 100 percent of the time to drug enforcement,” said Downing, “and the result of that is to use police resources for that purpose.”
Perhaps the strongest example of how drug war policing can distract resources from more pressing problems is the use of department laboratories. In Ohio, police agencies across the state have sent more than 2,300 untested rape kits to a state crime lab for testing. Some of them are decades old, and could contain vital clues regarding suspects in rapes. But they've been backed up in police departments across the country.
“What they don’t talk about is why do they have that backlog in the first place?” said Downing. “The answer is that drugs take a priority because they often involve people in custody, and they’re going to be in court, so when they show up in court, they’re going to have those tests. Thousands and thousands of tests run through our police labs for drugs when most of the time it's a personal use decision. Most of the time it's a recreational use of drugs rather than an abuse of drugs. But our criminal justice system is completely involved in dealing with drug crime rather than dealing with crime that truly affects public safety, like property and crimes against persons."
Praising the man who helped Amanda Berry escape, Stephen Downing also says police need to become more involved with their communities.
“The community is involved in solving these cases and the willingness of people is helpful,” he said. “If the police would recognize more the true value of their community -- that the people are the police and the police are the people -- rather than chasing drugs and asset seizures and policing for profit modalities, all our communities would be better off and more aware.”