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Former Undercover Drug Narc on Why Police Don't Bust White People and How He Turned Against Drug War

He helped wage the drug war. Now he's fighting to end it.

Neill Franklin
Photo Credit: Roc Martin


This article originally appeared on Vice.

Sometimes he was Steven Francis Neill, and sometimes he was Neill Franklin. One was an unemployed junky looking to score on the streets of Baltimore. The other was an undercover narcotics agent.

“Eventually, it became somewhat problematic,” the now retired Neill Franklin (which is his real name) explained. “I felt myself getting lost at times between the two worlds. This is one of the reasons for establishing rigid limitations on how long someone remains undercover. We've left some investigators ‘under’ way too long.”

I met Neill for a tour of his Baltimore, the city he grew up in, policed for 34 years, and left upon retirement. As we cruised through a wasteland of abandoned and burned-out houses, it was easy to see why the 55-year-old had moved to the suburbs. Corner boys glared out from under street signs with names suggesting far more idyllic surroundings—Eden, Crystal, and Spring.

We meandered for the next several hours as I interviewed him about the drug war that he helped to wage and now blames for the ruination of the city he once called home. As the executive director of  Law Enforcement Against Prohibition (LEAP), Franklin—along with  3,500 other former cops, judges, and district attorneys—is on a crusade to make all drugs legal.

Roc Martin: What was it like growing up here?

Neill Franklin: Back in the 60s, all of these wonderful row homes that you see all boarded up and vacant, they had people in them. In my neighborhood, we had doctors, and teachers, and businessmen. We had all of these positive influences within walking distance, but violence chased them away.

How did the violence start?
The drug trade. No, not so much the drug trade, but policing the drug trade. We always had drugs, but we didn’t always have violence in our streets. Back then, there were major drug organizations in the city that divided up different areas among themselves. “That’s your area, this is ours, and if we have problems, we settle them among ourselves.” Violence was bad for business. When the drug war began, though, we started dismantling those organizations. The vacancies that we created were filled by the sons of the men we sent to prison. The sons fought each other over who would fill those vacancies. They went to the street corners, and gangs started developing, and six organizations turned into 600.

So there’s actually an increase in violence after every drug bust?

Yes, that’s exactly right. There’s also an increase in overdoses. People overdose because their dealer got arrested and they have to go to a new dealer. With their old dealer, he always mixes it the same way, so they know what the potency is. Suddenly, though, they’re buying from this new guy and have no idea how potent it is. Too much and they’re dead. The problems of drug use and addiction are real, but the policies of prohibition don’t get rid of them and end up creating a whole bunch of other problems.

Did you consider any of this when you joined the police force?
I had not a clue.

What were your convictions at the time?
I really didn’t have a whole lot. I joined pretty much because my older brother did.

Why did you choose narcotics?
It wasn’t like I was on this mission to rid the world of drugs or anything like that. It was just a very exciting thing to do. I noticed there was this shady group of folks who just kept coming in and out of the basement of the police barracks. They were always pulling up in their Cameros, Trans Ams, and Corvettes. I found out that they were narcs—narcotics agents. I put in for a transfer right away, and that was the beginning of my career in drug enforcement.

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