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Pubdate: Fri 26 Jun 1998 Source: Ottawa Citizen (Canada) Contact: http://www.ottawacitizen.com/ Author: David Pugliese Assessing the war on drugs: STREET COP SAYS POLICE EXPLOIT CRACKDOWN TO RAISE BUDGETS The war on drugs is a bust, and the only winners are the police who earn big bucks for overtime and promotions for arrests that accomplish little, according to a veteran police officer. Vancouver police Const. Gil Puder said the fight to get illegal drugs off the streets is a losing battle that does little to make society safer but a lot to keep police budgets healthy. ``It's a completely self-generating scheme,'' Const. Puder, a decorated officer with 16 years' experience, said yesterday in an interview from Vancouver. ``Line officers make more overtime. Bureaucrats get bigger empires. They can then use the fear of (drug) violence to get bigger budgets.'' He argued the police have failed in their fight against drugs in a new article in the Fraser Forum, published by the Fraser Institute. Const. Puder's long and respected career makes the article especially hard-hitting. He has trained fellow officers in the use of force at the B.C. Justice Institute and done research for B.C. Supreme Court Justice Wallace Oppal's 1994 inquiry into policing in the province. He has also worked on Vancouver's streets. In 1984, he shot and killed an addict turned bank robber who was using a fake handgun. Const. Puder believes marijuana should be legalized immediately and that a legal and controlled drug supply should be coupled with health and eduction programs. Law enforcement efforts in battling drugs are ``worse than useless,'' he maintained. ``They're counterproductive.'' In his article, Const. Puder wrote that, contrary to the Hollywood image of narcotics operations, police rarely catch wealthy drug lords living in mansions and driving expensive automobiles. ``Drug-related arrests can be very easy, with hundreds of available identifiable targets on city streets. Arrests usually involve poor, hungry people on street corners or in rooming houses and filth-strewn alleyways.'' At the same time, he argued that the drug war pays off for police, earning them massive amounts of overtime as they wait in court to testify in cases that have come come to trial. They quickly find that ``maximizing arrests (maximizes) earning power,'' he concludes. He said one colleague complained that a transfer to a desk job from drug enforcement cost him several thousand dollars in overtime. The officer was upset because the dip in his salary forced him to cancel a vacation. Const. Puder wrote that those officers with high arrest rates built on drug possession quickly climb the promotion ladder. ``Careerists use the same, often meaningless arrest statistics as performance measures to advance their rank and salary,'' he writes. At the same time, police drug experts have resorted to demonizing ``drug users'' and using the media to highlight ``trophy busts'' of seized narcotics. ``Turning sick people into monsters is useful for drug warriors since it impedes serious consideration of enforcement alternatives,'' he wrote. This is not the first time Const. Puder has spoken out on the issue. In April, Vancouver police Chief Bruce Chambers tried to prevent Const. Puder from giving a speech at a fraser Institute forum on policing and drugs. Chief Chambers wanted Const. Puder to change the content of his address, but the officer declined. However, Const. Puder did remove ``Vancouver Police Department'' from his name tag to show that his views did not represent those of the force. He inserted a similar disclaimer in his Fraser Forum article. He said he has not been disciplined for his views. Chief Chambers did not respond to a request for an interview. Const. Puder, a former SWAT team officer, said he is also concerned about the militarization of police in fighting the drug war. ``Why is it that those teams are being used on a daily basis, sometimes several times a day for drug raids for marijuana?'' he asked. ``I mean, come on. Let's wake up here.'' He said he finds its amazing that governments approve the sale of tobacco, which kills 40,000 people a year in Canada and the sale of alcohol, which kills 5,000 people annually. ``Yet it's a criminal offence to have marijuana and it has never killed anybody in recorded history,'' said Const. Puder. ``I'm sorry, but there's something wrong with this picture.'' He isn't the first Vancouver police officer to break ranks and speak out against the fight against drugs. In 1997, former deputy police chief Ken Higgins, then still with the Vancouver police force, also called for the decriminalization of narcotics possession. - --- Checked-by: "Rolf Ernst"