Pubdate: Sat, 3 Oct 2009
Source: Sydney Morning Herald (Australia)
Copyright: 2009 The Sydney Morning Herald
Author: Michael Duffy
Cited: Law Enforcement Against Prohibition
Referenced: Breaking Rank


A RETIRED American police chief will tell a Sydney audience tomorrow 
that the war on drugs has been a failure, and a disaster for police forces.

Norm Stamper retired as chief of police in Seattle in 2000, and is a 
spokesman for Law Enforcement Against Prohibition, a fast-growing US 
organisation of 13,000 current and former police officers, prison 
warders, prosecutors and judges.

He says that since Richard Nixon began the drug war in 1971, the most 
common reason for arresting young Americans has been for non-violent 
drug offences. Millions have been jailed, with often devastating 
effects on themselves and their families. Mr Stamper said this had 
driven a wedge between police and many otherwise law-abiding Americans.

"Police need a partnership with the community," he said. "If they're 
to get the information they need to fight crime, there needs to be a 
strong sense of trust. But with tens of millions of young Americans 
having been arrested for non-violent drug offences, there's a 
widespread sense the police are there to do things to people rather 
than for people.

"You may be working a non-drug-related murder and hoping that 
citizens will come forward with information about the shooter. But 
you can have doors slammed in your face because of an unhappy 
experience with the police over a drug arrest."

He said the war had encouraged bad behaviour by police, ranging from 
illegal searches to involvement in the drug trade, further 
undermining public trust in law enforcement.

America's conduct of the war overseas had harmed police there too. In 
Mexico it had led to massive corruption and thousands of killings by 
drug cartels. "Many of the victims are police officers, who are often 
tortured and beheaded," Mr Stamper said. "Essentially, honest police 
in Mexico have a choice: they can co-operate with the cartels or they 
can die. This is a direct result of the prohibition model and the 
American drug war."

Mr Stamper said he had an "epiphany" when he was a rookie cop in the 
late 1960s.

"I arrested a 19-year-old at his own home for possession of 
marijuana," he recalled, "and as I was taking him to jail in the back 
seat of my caged police car, it dawned on me that I could be doing 
real police work [instead of this]. I wasn't sure what harm this 
young man had caused anyone, including himself. I know that I had 
done him a good deal of harm, in arresting him and giving him a 
criminal record."

Mr Stamper, who thinks drugs should be decriminalised and regulated 
in the same way as alcohol, has written a book about his career 
called Breaking Rank. He believes that at no stage since 1971 has it 
even looked as if the war on drugs was being won.

"Every once in a while, someone in government has claimed progress," 
he said, "but they've been wrong. The immutable law of supply and 
demand will continue to work its magic for ever. Purity and prices 
will fluctuate, people's behaviour will fluctuate, but there has 
never been any point in the drug war where we've come close to 
winning. It is unwinnable, and it's immoral."

Norm Stamper will be speaking with Alex Wodak and Greg Barnes at the 
Festival of Dangerous Ideas tomorrow. The session "Make All Drug Use 
Legal" is at the Opera House Studio at 4pm. The Herald is the 
festival's media partner. 
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