Drugs, Crime, Blog Wars

Tuesday, February 3rd, 2009

A few people have asked what I think of this critique of my work over at Patterico’s blog, by a guest blogger with the handle JRM.

Not much.

He’s taking aim at my article from last month on the drug war’s collateral damage, which he characterizes as “fact-free.” He gets one thing wrong right off the bat. He writes that the article was in Reason. It wasn’t. It was reprinted on Reason’s website. The piece was actually commissioned by Culture11, a (now defunct, unfortunately) conservative website co-founded by strident drug warrior William Bennett.

But let’s get to his criticisms. I’ll start with the crime rate. JRM writes:

Balko also cites the climbing murder rates:

If you look at a graph of the U.S. murder rate going back to about 1915, you’ll notice a few interesting patterns. There’s a spike at around 1919, just at the onset of alcohol prohibition. The graph then takes a dramatic dip in 1933, just after the repeal of prohibition. There’s then another spike in the late 1960s, just as Richard Nixon took office and fired the first shots of his war on drugs. That spike falls in the 1970s as President Carter took a less militant approach to drug prohibition, but then with Reagan’s reinvigorated war in the 1980s, it begins another upward ascent.

Balko cites this chart for his claim as to the murder chart going up. The chart stops in 1997.

Fortunately, I was able to locate this really neat thing on the internets called Google. You can use it to find data, like the fact that the murder rate in 1997 of 6.8 per 100,000 people was a dropoff from prior years, that Balko’s claim that Reagan’s anti-drug efforts led to more murders (the answer, by the way, is fewer) and even that they kept data past 1997 – when the murder rate continued to drop, stabilizing at 5.6 per 100,000 over the last few years. That’s the lowest rate since 1965.

JRM’s snark aside, he completely misses my point, which is odd because he actually excerpted it. I never claimed the murder rate continued to increase indefinitely after Reagan took office. I wrote that there a few landmark points in U.S. history where the federal government took a significantly more aggressive approach to limiting our access to intoxicating substances (alcohol prohibition, Nixon’s war on drugs, and Reagan’s escalation of the war on drugs), and that there’s a corresponding jump in homicide rates following each of those changes in policy (starting in 1919, 1973, and the mid-1980s, respectively). I also pointed out that there are two notable points where the government de-escalated its efforts to ban or limit access to intoxicating substances (the end of alcohol prohibition, and Carter’s detante from Nixon’s war on drugs), and both of these points were followed by a drop in national homicide rates.

I’m well aware about the dramatic drop in violent crime that began in about 1993. I’ve written about it. So have a lot of other people. Just about every economist, sociologist, and criminologist with a research grant has a theory. I might have missed it, but one theory I haven’t seen is that violent crime began dropping in 1993 because the Clinton administration started taking an exceptionally aggressive approach to the drug war. On the contrary. Most law-and-order conservatives criticized Clinton for not pursuing prohibition with enough vigor and righteous might.

My point is that there are some notable dips and peaks in the U.S. homicide rate that correspond to changes in federal drug policy. Economists (most notably Harvard’s Jeff Miron) have pretty conclusively hammered down the link—to the point where I’m not even sure it’s even all that controversial anymore.

The point is not that federal drug policy is the only thing that drives the homicide rate. We also saw some pretty stellar economic growth that began in about 1993. I’d imagine that played a sizeable role in the drop in violent crime that began at the same time.

Let’s move on to JRM’s next criticism:

…Balko cites a 2006 WSJ editorial, which says in part:

Police in large cities formerly carried revolvers holding six .38-caliber rounds. Nowadays, police carry semi-automatic pistols with 16 high-caliber rounds, shotguns and military assault rifles, weapons once relegated to SWAT teams facing extraordinary circumstances. Concern about such firepower in densely populated areas hitting innocent citizens has given way to an attitude that the police are fighting a war against drugs and crime and must be heavily armed.

If only we had police shooting and fatality statistics from some large police force.

Oh, wait! We do! Fox News reported on a massive decline in total shootings. Accidental shootings were way down since 1996. Police shootings involved about the same number of shots per event.

Did I say Fox News? I meant the New York Times. Sorry. I get them confused a lot.

So, we have fewer shootings, fewer cops killed on the street, and fewer accidental shootings. One might suspect that this would lead an observer to conclude that police forces are getting better, if one looked at the actual data, rather than making it up.

First, the author of that Wall Street Journal op-ed is Joseph McNamara, who served as police chief of both Kansas City, Missouri and San Jose, California. He started his career as a beat cop for NYPD, where he also later served as a deputy inspector of crime analysis. He now has a doctorate in criminology and is a scholar at the Stanford’s Hoover Institution, a conservative think tank (Ed Meese and Thomas Sowell are also fellows there). I don’t know JRM’s background, but I’d submit that McNamara can’t exactly be characterized as a left-wing loon, and in fact is pretty darned qualified to write about police issues.

Second, JRM leaves out the rest of my discussion of police militarization in the piece, which includes the very real, not-made-up statistic based on police department surveys done by Peter Kraska showing the number of SWAT deployments in the U.S. jumping from a few hundred per year in the 1970s to 50,000 or more per year today. Most of these SWAT deployments are to serve drug warrants. JRM can disagree, but my point is that even if these raids don’t produce a single gun shot (though we know that’s far from the case), that’s a disturbing trend. The image of state agents dressed in black, kicking down doors, and wresting people out of bed at gunpoint in order to police nonviolent crimes just isn’t one I associated with a free society (oddly enough, some prominent conservatives agree, at least when other countries do it).

Third, JRM bases his theory that “police forces are getting better” all over the country on a New York Times article about a study of officer-related gunfire in New York City. That would be one force, not “forces.” Of course, if violent crime across the country has dropped since about 1993, it wouldn’t be terribly surprising to see a corresponding drop in police gunfire since 1996, at NYPD or any other police department. That doesn’t mean the police aren’t becoming increasingly militarized. Nor does it mean that the decline wouldn’t be even greater were it not for the drug war. Police militarization and the rise of SWAT teams has been a gradual process.  It began in the early 1980s. Over that time, the homicide rate has dropped, risen, dropped dramatically, then slightly ticked upward again. You can’t just point only to what’s happend since 1996 and say, “See, that proves that militarizing our police departments has given us only goodness and light!”

I mean, I guess you can. It’s just not terribly convincing.

Fourth, most police departments don’t actually keep track of officer-involved shootings, even though they’re required to by the Justice Department. The truth is, we really don’t know whether such shootings are going up or down nationally. I wish they would keep better track. But as I’ve discovered with the repeated rejections of my open records requests regarding botched drug raids, police departments tend to be lax when it comes to keeping track of their own mistakes. My guess is that officer-involved shootings generally have followed the violent crime rate, and so probably dropped for about 15 years starting in the 1990s, then levelled off or inched upward over the last three. (The introduction of the Taser has probably also had a downward impact on police shootings.)

That doesn’t mean, however, that we shouldn’t be concerned about police militarization. Even if the police are shooting fewer people, there’s still plenty of reason to worry about the increasing willingness to use violent, confrontational tactics to police consensual crimes, as well as the disregard for constitutional and civil liberties that comes with a militaristic, us-versus-them mindset. I’ve talked to plenty of older and retired cops who are quite worried about the trend toward more military-like gear, tactics, training, and the effects it may be having on many officers’ state of mind and approach to the job.

(I should note here that I blame the politicians and policymakers for this, not the cops. The people who set the incentives and bad policies deserve scorn, not the people who respond to them in the very ways we would expect them to.)

Finally, JRM writes:

Balko claims that the current Mexico drug issues are caused by America’s unwillingness to import delicious drugs and its funding of drug interdiction efforts. I can’t help but notice that in those countries where hard drugs are either de facto or de jure legal, crime seems to be worse. Mexico’s lack of enforcement of the drug laws (primarily due to widespread corruption) hasn’t led to peaceful drug lords. It’s led to drug lords killing each other and everyone else.

Here, JRM is badly misinformed. Hard drugs are not “de facto” or “de jure” legal in Mexico, any more than they are in the United States. Yes, it’s pretty easy to get high in Mexico.  Same as it is in America. But to say that there’s a “lack of enforcement of the drug laws” in Mexico is absurd. The violence we’ve seen in Mexico over the last few years is a direct consequence of President Felipe Calderon’s aggressive, bloody, militarized war on drugs (which has been encouraged by the U.S. government, and funded in part by U.S. taxpayers).

From the New York Times:

Since coming to office in December 2006, Mr. Calderón has sought to revamp and professionalize the federal police force, using it, with the army, to mount huge interventions in cities and states once controlled by drug traffickers.

The result has been mayhem: a street war in which no target has been too big, no attack too brazen for the gangs…

The violence between drug cartels that Mr. Calderón has sought to end has only worsened over the past year and a half. The death toll has jumped 47 percent to 1,378 this year, prosecutors say. All told, 4,125 people have been killed in drug violence since Mr. Calderón took office.

From USA Today:

Calderón’s offensive began in December 2006, just days after he took office. Prompted by a series of murders, the former economist surprised the country by dispatching 10,000 troops to patrol the streets of Morelia and other cities in his home state of Michoacán — a major producer of crystal meth, marijuana and heroin.

Within weeks, troops were also sent to Tijuana, Juárez, Nuevo Laredo, Monterrey and other drug-trafficking corridors. Stunned police officers were forced to hand over their weapons to the soldiers. Residents saw convoys of Humvees rolling past their houses.

Thousands of suspects were arrested in raids and at highway checkpoints. Dozens were extradited to the U.S. Calderón also asked the United States for help, a historic move in a country that is especially sensitive about U.S. meddling. The Bush administration pledged $1.1 billion in police and military aid.

The result?

Drug-related murders are soaring — 3,004 this year as of Sept. 3, compared to 2,673 in all of 2007, according to a tally by El Universal newspaper. In 2006 there were 1,410 drug-related killings.

And mass killings are commonplace. Twelve decapitated bodies were found Aug. 28 outside the Yucatán Peninsula city of Mérida. Police found 24 bodies bound and shot in a rural area outside Mexico City on Sept. 13. And on Aug. 16, gunmen shot and killed 13 people, including a baby, at a party in the northern town of Creel.

Many Mexicans fear that Calderón’s battle is turning into a quagmire, says Francisco García Cordero, editor of Criminalia, a criminal-justice journal. When the crackdown began, 53% of Mexicans approved of Calderón’s anti-crime efforts, according to a poll commissioned by the Reforma newspaper. By Sept. 1, only 34% approved…

Back in Morelia, at the Miguel Silva General Hospital, medical director María Soledad Castro says doctors now treat about 15 gunshot victims a month. “Before this all started, we rarely got even one gunshot a month,” she says.

None of this is surprising. You create black markets, you get crime. Step up enforcement and knock off a couple of big-time dealers, and their rivals are going to fight over the portion of the market that you’ve just opened up. When the liquor store down the street goes out of buisness, the other neighborhood liquor stores compete for its customers with ads, and maybe some sales or specials. When the main drug supplier in town goes out of business, competing suppliers compete for his customers by killing one other, and anyone who happens to get caught in the crossfire.

Those were JRM’s three criticisms, from a 3,500-word article that apparently was “fact-free.”

Now, I think I’ll head to bed.

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33 Responses to “Drugs, Crime, Blog Wars”

  1. #1 |  Marty | 

    Fantastic- You should set up another debate!

    I think the staunchest defenders of govt force are people who’ve never been trespassed against.

    I just watched 3 cops force their way into a young man’s home, push him against a wall, and handcuff him. he was calm. he repeatedly asked for a warrant, asked them to leave, etc. He repeatedly informed them that he knew his rights. he had a bulldog that was in its kennel in the kitchen. After following this site, this sent chills down my spine. What if he tried to defend himself? what if the dog was loose?

    his crime? his ex-girlfriend called 911 from another address and said he’s suicidal. before the cops went in, he denied wanting to hurt himself, he never threatened anyone. he didn’t seem intoxicated. he was completely coherent.

    as a paramedic on the scene, what do I do? If I report it, we’ll be shunned by every cop in the county for ‘screwing them over’ and it still won’t stop happening.

    I’ve been on over 15,000 911 calls, have seen a lot of great cops, but have seen way too much abuse by cops, also. Until you see how casually some cops violate someone’s rights, you can’t imagine that this happens in America. I think it usually starts as ‘trying to do some good’ but when it doesn’t work the way they expected, the machine kicks in and runs over anyone in it’s path, while the cheerleaders eggs ’em on.

    Sorry for the long post, but this is heavy on my mind.

  2. #2 |  Brandon Bowers | 

    Good post, Marty. I’ve heard the “bad cops are just a loud minority, good cops don’t make the news” theory after every police abuse story I’ve ever seen. Out of 15,000 calls you took as a paramedic, I’d guess, what, 10,000 had cops at the scene? Even if it’s half that, that’s a much better perspective than I have on it. What do you think the ratio is of bad/good cops?

  3. #3 |  Superfluous Man | 

    Great rebuttal overall, Radley, but I take issue with your implication that we ought not blame individual cops for reacting to policymakers’ perverse incentives. In fact, this seems similar to the kind of odious double-standard for cops that you so often decry, only shifted from a legal context to an ethical one.

    In the legal context, we agree that it is wrong not to charge a cop with manslaughter when he accidentally shoots and kills someone, even though a civilian who takes the exact same actions gets charged almost all the time. In the ethical context, it seems odd that you don’t blame the cops for reacting in the way they do, when civilians who react in those ways would be shunned or imprisoned. For instance, even though our insane drug policy creates powerful incentives for gang members to commit violent crimes, we ought not give them a free pass for their violent acts.

    I guess my point is that, while policymakers obviously deserve heaping loads of scorn, we shouldn’t absolve the individual policemen who execute those policies. The cops who follow these policies and exploit their positions of power do so willingly. They are not automatons. They choose to pursue consensual crimes and ruin the lives of those who pose no harm to anyone. They choose to break the laws they are supposed to protect in order to help get arrests and convictions. They choose to follow the policies set by their bosses, and to buy into the “us-vs-them-it’s-a-war-out-there” mentality. I suspect that, increasingly, police departments select the types of individuals who are likely to abuse the power that a badge and a gun gives them. While, ultimately, this may be traced to failed policy, blaming the individuals who fail to stand up to it is inescapable.

    Keep up the great work!

  4. #4 |  paranoiastrksdp | 

    Brandon Bowers:

    “What do you think the ratio is of bad/good cops?”


    The fact that there was ever a context for someone such as Brandon to ask this question speaks volumes about our culture and society.

  5. #5 |  Rock | 

    as a paramedic on the scene, what do I do? If I report it, we’ll be shunned by every cop in the county for ’screwing them over’ and it still won’t stop happening.

    Yes, you report it because that is the morally right thing to do. Principles are beliefs you hold and will speak up for, no matter the consequences. To not speak up is to condone the behavior and become part of the problem. Police abuse can happen, and DOES happen, to anyone, and you could be next.

  6. #6 |  terrorific | 

    Citing numbers and stats and other nonsense is a complete waste of time for both sides. Not only can they be interpreted in a myriad of ways, but they also have dubious origins.

    Drugs should be legal because it’s not right for the state to tell people what they can put in their bodies. Period. If we can’t win the argument on that point alone, then what’s the point of legalizing them?

    Let’s stick to the basics here!

  7. #7 |  Bernard | 

    Unfortunately, based on prior experience of the site, he’ll completely ignore the points made in the rebuttal and imagine different points that you made before cleverly refuting those and claiming that you’re skirting round the subject (while talking about how moderate his views are and how sad it is to have to point out the ‘facts’ on the drug war).

    So, good (though not really necessary) rebuttal, and best leave it there.

  8. #8 |  More cynical | 


    Of course you are right – it’s like arguring that slavery is wrong because it leads to reduced productivity in the cotton industry. But Balko does the Lord’s work here, in attempting to debate the amoral utilitarians on their own ground. And he wins.

  9. #9 |  Marty | 

    #2 | Brandon Bowers-

    ‘ratio’? the numbers I have in my head 10% are golden… GREAT GUYS. always try to do the right thing. 10% are horrible, ‘why are you cops?!’ kinda guys, and 80% overlap in the middle- just guys trying to do a job, sometimes they might be great, sometimes they might be not so great.

    #5 | Rock-

    The problem with reporting it is that I’m reporting it to my supervisor or their supervisor, which just pisses them off and the complaint goes no further. My partner and I talked it over and we’re electing to talk to the cops involved as we bump into them on calls- ask how it’s justified, etc. MAYBE by being non-confrontational, we can help these guys (who aren’t horrible 10% cops) see what someone who isn’t a cop sees. I think they lost their perspective. If we hit them hard and heavy, we’ll just be ‘people who don’t understand how dangerous this is, etc, etc…’ and they’ll not listen at all. I’ve participated in FBI civil rights violations investigations- I’m very confident this ‘minor’ incident will never be addressed properly by reporting it.

    thanks for the input, I don’t disagree with what you think.

  10. #10 |  thomasblair | 

    ‘ratio’? the numbers I have in my head 10% are golden… GREAT GUYS. always try to do the right thing. 10% are horrible, ‘why are you cops?!’ kinda guys, and 80% overlap in the middle- just guys trying to do a job, sometimes they might be great, sometimes they might be not so great.

    So, in your experience, something like a normal distribution?

  11. #11 |  parse | 

    Drugs should be legal because it’s not right for the state to tell people what they can put in their bodies. Period

    Terrorific, some drug warriors make the claim that drugs are instantly addicting substances that, once taken, compel users to acquire them at any cost, including theft and murder. If that were true, would you still believe that it’s not right for the state to tell people what they can put in their bodies? Period?

    Given the horrendous negative effects of the drug wars, I think it’s smart to use the most effective arguments available for ending it.

  12. #12 |  primus | 

    parse: a diabetic who is ‘addicted’ to insulin has no problem, nor do I with my caffeine jones. The only problem comes when the substance is unavailable or unrealistically expensive. The problem is not the substance, it is the prohibition which leads to scarcity and high prices which is the cause of the problem. The road to hell is paved with good intentions. This is an example of that.

  13. #13 |  carlitos | 

    Solid rebuttal to a post that I had some problems with to start with. While I mostly agree with you, I’d like to press you on one thing. Yes, it’s true that the increased bloodshed in Mexico is due to ‘turf wars’ and traffickers fighting over leftover territory due to enforcement activity. But isn’t this true of much law-enforcement? True, liquor stores mail out coupons and such. But isn’t almost any enforcement activity met with initial resistance? Didn’t Giuliani’s crime figures spike before they leveled off and decreased?

    I’m just not 100% sure that the answer to meth lab’s proprietor’s violence is the elimination of enforcement. And I agree with legalization in principle.

  14. #14 |  carlitos | 

    primus, if wal-mart sold methamphetamines as “Sam’s Meth,” it would be cheaper and more pure and there would be no enforcement wars or violations of privacy. Would society be better or worse off as a result?

  15. #15 |  Mike T | 

    I can’t help but notice that in those countries where hard drugs are either de facto or de jure legal, crime seems to be worse

    That stuck out to me more than anything else he wrote. Obviously he cannot see that most of Latin America, Afghanistan and a few other places usually have far more problems than drugs. Their drug problems are the least of their worries.

  16. #16 |  Geoff | 

    In debating this subject, it is sometimes most effective to use the argument, ‘the individual police aren’t bad people, they are just following flawed policy’. This is usually a harmless way to engage a peaceful discussion, especially with someone of an authoritarian mindset, however this may be a bit of a sellout. You must ask the question, ‘how can you as an officer sleep at night putting people in jail for using the same drugs you used recreationally in college?’, or ‘how can you shoot a dog that is fleeing in the back of the head?’, etc etc. At some point the ‘just following orders’ argument doesn’t work anymore.

  17. #17 |  Marty | 


    ‘So, in your experience, something like a normal distribution?’

    if you mean, ‘do I feel competency amongst cops is the same as it is throughout other industries?’ I think so. Obviously, there’s a different danger to incompetent cops vs incompetent businessmen, though…

    My best friend is a cop and we’ve discussed these matters at length. He likes Radley and thinks he’s pretty well spot on with his analysis.

  18. #18 |  claude | 

    “but one theory I haven’t seen is that violent crime began dropping in 1993 because the Clinton administration started taking an exceptionally aggressive approach to the drug war.”

    Juvenille population fell in the 1990’s. It reached its highest point in the mid 1980’s. Thats where the decrease in crime comes from. Murder is a young persons crime for the most part.

  19. #19 |  claude | 

    This is also interesting:

    “The Impact of Legalized Abortion on Crime

    John J. Donohue III
    Yale Law School; National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER)

    Steven D. Levitt
    University of Chicago; National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER); American Bar Foundation

    Quarterly Journal of Economics

    We offer evidence that legalized abortion has contributed significantly to recent crime reductions. Crime began to fall roughly 18 years after abortion legalization. The 5 states that allowed abortion in 1970 experienced declines earlier than the rest of the nation, which legalized in 1973 with Roe v. Wade. States with high abortion rates in the 1970s and 1980s experienced greater crime reductions in the 1990s. In high abortion states, only arrests of those born after abortion legalization fall relative to low abortion states. Legalized abortion appears to account for as much as 50 percent of the recent drop in crime.”

    JEL Classifications: J11, J13
    Accepted Paper Series


  20. #20 |  Steve Verdon | 

    JRM fits right in at Pattericos, IMO. Haven’t these people heard of the concept of an arms race? It not only happens between nation states it happens between organisms in biology ffs! Orgranism 1 develops a defense against Organism 2. Organism 2 developes a better offense to Organism 1’s defense. Rinse and repeat. More here.

    Why should cops and criminals be any different? The cops carry .38s. So the criminals get something better. The cops in turn upgrade. Of course there are limits on this in that a criminal can’t use a canon and a cop can’t start deploying napalm. And it doesn’t have to end with weapon types but also strategies. Game theorists and biologists are now working together, and you can have evolution of strategies (some might call this learning–what a shock). Could the militarizing of police departments be the result of this arms race? Could their strategies? Could this explain the use of SWAT teams in the vast majority of drug busts even when the intended target has no history of violence?

    Maybe JRM needs to spend more time using Google to actually improve his understanding of even fairly simple concepts.

  21. #21 |  Steve Verdon | 

    None of this is surprising. You create black markets, you get crime. Step up enforcement and knock off a couple of big-time dealers, and their rivals are going to fight over the portion of the market that you’ve just opened up.

    Hmmm, this got me thinking.

    I play an online MMO, Eve Online. The game takes place in a fictional galaxy, and players basically move around in space ships (yeah I know I’m a dork). Part of the galaxy is “Empire” space which is controlled by 4 empires in the game, the solar systems in this part of the galaxy no player, player alliance, or player corporation can “control”. There is also low security space where players can try to control it, but it tends to rather fluid. Then there is lawless space where player based alliances can control the space. They have a system for determining sovereignty, once sovereignty reaches a certain level you can set up jammers to prevent your enemies from “jumping” in.

    In one part of lawless space a large and powerful alliance, the Band of Brothers (BoB) and their allies (the Greater BoB Community–aka GBC) attacked the Northern Coalition, a collection of alliances in the “northern” part of the galaxy. The GBC blasted through several regions of space defeating the alliances there. Hundreds of systems fell into GBC hands. But the GBC wasn’t too interested in holding that space, the moved on to the next target (and their campaign stalled there).

    But like what Radley has noted once the GBC left the space that they had recently conquered dozens of other alliances moved in and started fighting over the turf. There are maps showing alliance influence and watching that region over time is like watching a slow moving kaliedascop as the colors shift as a new alliance moves in, and then falls to yet another alliance.

    Now this is just an online game and we see that when you remove one power faction competitors move in. Why wouldn’t we see this in real life when hundreds of millions probably even billions of dollars are at stake? I’m think you would. In other words, Radley is absolutely right on this one. Take down several drug kingpins you could actually get more violence as smaller competing gangs/organizations move into try and capitalize on the power vacuum.

  22. #22 |  parse | 

    parse: a diabetic who is ‘addicted’ to insulin has no problem, nor do I with my caffeine jones. The only problem comes when the substance is unavailable or unrealistically expensive. The problem is not the substance, it is the prohibition which leads to scarcity and high prices which is the cause of the problem. The road to hell is paved with good intentions. This is an example of that.

    Sorry, primus, but you are not arguing that the state has no right to tell you what to put in your body, period, which according terrorific is the only argument you are allowed to make, regardless of the truth or efficacy of any other arguments. If you argued that marijuana should be legalized because it’s not harmful and in fact has a myriad of beneficial uses, and you were so persuasive that all laws against marijuana were swiftly repealed–terrorific says there’s no point in that if some people still believe that goverment has a limited right to regulate substances people might want to put into their bodies.

  23. #23 |  Reno | 

    I looked into JRM claim on NYC PD’s drop in shooting to refute your point that the change from a .38 to a 9MM and other military style weapons was a source of concern. Well JRM’s cited chart shows there is a small drop from 1996, but the NYCPD did not switch pistols then. The switch started in 1993. Also the NYCPD is just starting to train new recruits to carry assault rifles. Before, it was just the elite unit that could carry them. NYPD also has .50 caliber sniper rifles on its helicopter.
    I can’t believe that JRM falls into the fallacy of using the same reasoning that he accuses others of using. Taking a small piece of data and making assumptions of the population when the sample is not representative of the whole.
    We should all remember this, correlation does not always indicate direct causation.
    And why did not JRM explain why he thought things would be worse if drugs were legalized? Also I disagree with the statment “America’s unwillingness to import delicious drugs “. It is very much America’s desire to import drugs that drives the price and drug violence up. If drugs were legal, we would make them at home or where ever they are the cheapest.
    Links Used Above:

  24. #24 |  In America, you give up your rights if someone claims you are suicidal « Muse Free | 

    […] February 3, 2009 by Abhishek This is pathetic. […]

  25. #25 |  Andre Kenji | 

    In 1994 or 1995 a group of inmates in a penitentiary in Taubate, 100 miles from the city of São Paulo, decided to create a group to avenge the massacre of 109 inmates of a penitentiary in São Paulo in 1992. Some years later, they are jailed with drug traffickers from Rio de Janeiro, and noted that they have plenty of money, and decided to trade drugs by themselves.

    They would create one of the biggest crime organizations in Latin America, the Primeiro Comando da Capital, a criminal syndicate that would provoke a major uproar in 2006 that would kill 100 people and paralyze the State of São Paulo, where 40 million people live.

    The fact is that the experience in Latin America shows that drug prohibition provides easy money for these thugs. It also makes them to use military tatics. Sure, we have several problems besides drug violence. But we wouldn´t have children carrying rifles in the Rio de Janeiro slums if weren´t for drug prohibition. For criminals there isn´t another activity that´s profitable as drug trade.

  26. #26 |  rsm | 

    @19 I was wondering when someone was going to bring up that paper.

    It’s the most compelling argument I’ve seen for the crime rate drop in the 90s.

    Driving down the prices of drugs will probably do more to reduce gang related violence problems than anything else that can be tried. It’s all economics, and the pay at the bottom of the drug ladder is bad enough as it is, violence is less and less desirable as profit margins are squeezed.

    You could just have the police sell their stockpiles at 10c on the dollar to fund their retirement parties. Put those swat teams to good use selling herb brownies. Kind of like the girl scouts… although in kilts please, not skirts.

  27. #27 |  Helmut O' Hooligan | 

    Hey Marty,

    Just wanted to say thanks for your interesting posts in this thread, and thanks for your service as a medic. I think your 10-80-10 idea is probably a good way to sum up the situation in policing, and as Radley points out regularly, perverse incentives are a major factor here.

    As a healthcare security officer at a large hospital, I sympathize with your situation. Fortunately, I have not witnessed any obviously illegal behavior from my sworn counterparts in the last several years. However, I have seen some obnoxious attitudes. Most officers treat my colleagues and I like fellow public safety officers, but occasionally we deal with condescending “god’s gift to law enforcement” types who look down on us for not being the “real police.” Hey, fuck them. They get the cold shoulder from me. I also occasionally see disproportionate responses. For example, I remember one young officer called to assist us who seemed way too eager to pull his taser on an individual being held for observation after an OD. I believe he was motivated by fear, more than malice, but I’m not convinced he or officers like him should be on the street. It was kind of sad, really. Other security officers were miffed at this guy’s behavior, but the security supervisor on duty clammed up and basically said, “hey we depend on these guys for back-up.” That doesn’t mean that our department would let a police officer get away w/ anything (after all, our campus is covered in cctv cameras), but I understand the pressure you discussed above.

  28. #28 |  Big Chief | 

    Nice responsed to an idiotic commentary, Radley. I really appreciate the work you do in this area.

    The unfortunate aspect of the 10-80-10 split is that when the lousy 10% screw up, the other 90% tend to join them by covering for them.

    It’s quite possible for any cop, even in the good 10% to make a mistake. The greatest danger is when the system works to try and cover it up. It emboldens the crappy 10% and slows or stops reforms that could help us have a better police force.

    Keep up the fight Radley!

  29. #29 |  Marty | 


    you guys are in an interesting spot… by the time the cops pull in to the ER with a guy tied up with plastic cuffs, it’s easy to to create a ‘he said, she said’ and the guy in cuffs never wins at this point.

    Big Chief,

    I agree with you about the 90% generally covering for the ‘crappy’ 10%, which is why I believe the drug laws need to be reformed to help restore our 4th amendment protections. A lot of these guys operate in the gray areas of law so much, I think they feel unimpeachable. Let’s eliminate some gray!

  30. #30 |  terrorific | 

    Terrorific, some drug warriors make the claim that drugs are instantly addicting substances that, once taken, compel users to acquire them at any cost, including theft and murder.

    Those drug warriors don’t know what they’re talking about, and I’m walking proof.

    If that were true, would you still believe that it’s not right for the state to tell people what they can put in their bodies? Period?

    It’s not true, so the hypothetical is pointless, but it’s true that I don’t think the State should do anything about drugs.

  31. #31 |  Debbie Lee | 

    There’s a lot in this blog but the issues that surround our streets are gangs, drugs, violence and corruption we need politicians who can stand up to them not back down once their elected. I learned about this great guy through a couple of websites he’s gaining a lot of ground in the City Attorney race in Los Angeles because everyone knows LA needs a tough City Attorney. His name is Jack Weiss I think you should check out his issues at either http://www.jackweissoncrime.com or http://www.jackweissononguns.com

  32. #32 |  damnum absque injuria » This Is Your Brain On Drugs. This Is Your Brain On Anti-Drug Hysteria. Any Questions? | 

    […] Balko’s recent Reason/Culture11 article on the war on drugs, but I see Radley himself has beat me to the punch and made most of the points I would have made (and some that I did make, namely that the mere fact […]

  33. #33 |  Xrlq | 

    I agree with most of your points, but I’m not sure it’s fair to blame President Calderón on the increased violence in Mexico. By and large, the Mexican drug lords are fighting over U.S. turf, not Mexican turf. Calderón’s predecessors have largely turned a blind eye to the drug trade as long as the drugs were headed north. If the drugs were destined for Mexico itself, not so much.