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Why Cops Bust Down Doors of Medical Pot Growers, But Ignore Men Who Keep Naked Girls on Leashes

Thanks to the drug war, police have much more incentive to go after drug crimes than more heinous crimes.

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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.”

Kristen Gwynne is an associate editor and drug policy reporter at AlterNet.  Follow her on Twitter: @KristenGwynne

 
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