HTTP/1.0 200 OK Content-Type: text/html Councilors Look for Better Way to Fight Drugs
Pubdate: Thu, 14 Oct 2004
Source: Post-Standard, The (NY)
Copyright: 2004, Syracuse Post-Standard
Author: Frederic Pierce and Heidi Gitzen, Staff writers
Cited: ReconsiDer


Policy experts to speak at public hearings spurred by auditor's
report, concerns.

A Syracuse Common Council committee today will begin examining local
alternatives to the war on drugs.

Stephanie Miner, chairwoman of the council's finance committee, will
host four national experts on drug policy during public hearings
scheduled for today and Oct. 28.

The hearings stem from last year's critical city auditor's report on
the money spent by Syracuse police to enforce minor drug crimes, and
by increasing concern by city residents that a new approach is needed,
Miner said.

"It's become increasingly apparent to a lot of different people that
the war on drugs is not working," Miner said. "This is something
that's going on across the country, and we want to learn how other
communities are dealing with it, and if there's a way to spend money
more efficiently."

Other communities have made changes in emphasis and enforcement of
drug laws. But today's hearing - coupled with the auditor's report -
marks one of the few times a city government has taken it upon itself
to look critically at its approach and investigate alternatives, said
Nicholas Eyle, executive director of ReconsiDer, an organization
dedicated to reforming drug laws.

The Common Council has no control over drug laws, which are approved
by the state and federal government.

Members can, however, influence how city money is spent fighting drugs
and work to change the emphasis and approach of city police toward
drug use.

"The city has a lot of authority in terms of the way the laws are
enforced and the relationship between the police and the
neighborhoods," said former City Auditor Minch Lewis.

"If the city would make it clear that we wanted our revenues to be
allocated with a different approach, I believe we could certainly have
an impact," Lewis said. "It's a question of whether we spend those
resources to track down drug users or to focus on quality of life issues."

Last December, Lewis' final report as city auditor criticized the city
Police Department's emphasis on enforcing drug crimes, noting that
6,300 of its 28,800 arrests in 2002 were related to drugs.

That focus, he argued, had not succeeded in reducing street

To see if there is a better way, Miner next week will talk with
several experts on the effectiveness and cost of the current drug war
and discuss alternatives that appear to be working elsewhere.

Syracuse police Chief Steve Thompson said approaching drug enforcement
laws differently may sound productive, but if the public wants the
laws enforced, then it's the job of police to enforce them. But he
looks forward to the discussion.

"I will attend with open ears," Thompson said. "From a police
perspective, we receive numerous complaints regarding people dealing
drugs. We have to respond."

The speakers at the first hearing, scheduled for 5 p.m. today in
Common Council chambers at City Hall, include:

Jack Cole, a retired New Jersey State Police lieutenant and undercover
narcotics investigator and an international expert on drug policy.

Jeffrey Miron, a Boston University economist and author of a new book
on the cost drug prohibition has had to state governments. He has
served on the National Bureau of Economic Research and the National
Academy of Sciences Committee on Drug Use and the Workplace.

The speakers at the Oct. 28 hearing will include:

Roger Goodman, director of the King County Bar Association in Seattle
and the leader of a partnership of professional and community
organizations that is examining alternatives to current drug policies.

Canadian Sen. Pierre Claude Nolin, of the Canadian Senate's committee
on illegal drugs. Nolin recently completed a study of illegal drug
markets and made recommendations to change Canadian drug policies. 
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