Blue Steals Green

Police Corruption’s the Dark Underside of the Drug War’s Iceberg

Drug-related corruption within the Philadelphia Police Department – once again – is the target of federal authorities.

This latest action by federal authorities involves two patrolmen charged with trafficking drugs and robbing suspected drug dealers while on-duty and in full uniform.

A few days before federal authorities announced the early June indictments against those two patrolmen, Philadelphia authorities announced the arrest of a policeman arising from that officer’s scheme to rob drug dealers.

Curiously, this latest federal enforcement action against Philadelphia police tainted by drug corruption did not involve the six officers at the center of a mushrooming scandal that has resulted in Philadelphia city prosecutors refusing to prosecute drug arrests by those officers.

Philadelphia’s DA has yet to fully explain why he will no longer prosecute arrests made by those six officers, now transferred from narcotics to street patrol duty. This decision not to prosecute has led to the dismissal of over 300 cases since December 2012. This dismissal of cases involving those seemingly tainted officers exceeds even the 250 cases prosecutors dropped in the mid-1990s as a result of another a drug-related corruption scandal involving five Philadelphia policemen.

And, curiously, this latest action by federal authorities did not involve the Philadelphia policeman captured on videotape by Police Department Internal Affairs investigators stealing money from drug dealers during an investigation arising largely from evidence against that policeman provided by other police officers who witnessed several instances of his criminal conduct. That cash-copping Philly cop, fired for his corruption, was reinstated to the Police Department in early 2012 by an arbitrator following a process known to be weighted in favor of Philadelphia’s police union, the Fraternal Order of Police, which employed that tainted officer in the union’s headquarters until the union helped secure his reinstatement.

A stark contrast to the outrage officials nationwide always express in the wake of arrests involving police tainted by drug corruption is the consistent lack of outraged effort authorities give to a more serious issue.
 Lost before it began, but causing massive corruption in police departments across AmericaDrug War: Lost before it began, but causing massive corruption in police departments across America

That issue is not recurring criminality by police officers – individual and groups – horrific as that is. Rather it the festering issue the Drug War itself.

Widespread drug-related corruption among police –- local, state and federal –- is not just fallout but rather is an integral part of America’s resource-wasting and totally failed War on Drugs, now in its fourth decade. The corruption it encourages among law enforcers includes stealing and even selling drugs as well as planting drugs to facilitate false arrests that can lead to convictions with long prison sentences. High arrest numbers are a means of promotion for police officers and are also mechanism for police departments to secure increased funding for drug enforcement from federal and state governments.

Abuses systemic in ‘winning’ the Drug War include police, prosecutors and judges who routinely cut procedural corners, often bending and/or breaking laws to secure convictions.

These rights-robbing abuses arising from the Drug War’s ends-justify-extreme modus operandi simply encourage drug corruption by law enforcers. One 1998 federal report on drug-related police corruption stated that insufficient supervision within police narcotics units triggers “high-risk environments” for illegal activity.

America’s so-called Drug War expends billions of tax dollars annually – employing thousands of police, prosecutors and prison guards – yet this surreal “war” has failed to significantly squash drug usage across America. Drugs are more widely available, cheaper, of a higher-quality with usage higher than when the Drug War began in 1980 despite the expenditure of over $1-trillion on various enforcement schemes since 1980 and a 1,000% increase in drug sentenced inmates between 1980 and1999.

While not squelching drug use, the Drug War has succeeded wildly on other fronts. It has swelled prison populations and it has unfairly targeted racial minorities for disproportionate enforcement. Whites use drugs at five times the rate of blacks, but blacks are sent to prison for drug offenses at ten times the rate of whites, federal statistics persistently show.

Drug offenders represent 47.2% of all inmates in federal prisons, according to federal Bureau of Prisons statistics released two months ago. The 90,346 drug inmates in federal prisons dwarf the mere 817 serving sentences for banking, insurance, counterfeit and embezzlement crimes combined…ditto for the 87 imprisoned for ‘national security’ crimes. And few of those drug inmates are high-level drug kingpins. Most are just street dealers and drug couriers.

The Drug War has triggered gross perversions within the justice system that supposedly operates on the maxim of equal justice under the law.

One perversion, for example, is the federal authorities who preen when busting errant police officers but who have persistently cut non-prosecution deals with powerful bankers caught laundering billions of dollars for foreign drug cartels — the real enablers of the drug trade.

The wrist-slap fine top federal prosecutors slapped on HSBC Bank for laundering drug money elicited sharp criticism from U.S. Senator Elizabeth Warren, who in February 2013 questioned why federal authorities fined HSBC $1.9-billion but then declined to prosecute any of that bank’s personnel criminally for knowingly laundering that drug money for violent drug syndicates. That fine on HSBC represented a few days’ profit for the financial corporation based in Britain.

Having a drug conviction is enough to bar a person for life from obtaining a government-subsidized student loan for education, but laundering billions of dollars in drug money clearly doesn’t disqualify one from remaining in a pivotal post at a big bank. Over half – 52% – of the more than 200,000 inmates in federal prison inmates do not have a high school diploma.

Federal prosecutors routinely prosecute drug addicts along with occasional police officers. In 2011, federal prosecutors convicted 902 people for simple drug possession, a crime that should not take up precious federal court time. Yet, a few years ago, Wachovia Bank was hit with a large fine from federal prosecutors, but no employee prosecutions for money laundering – the same money-laundering crime for which federal prosecutors secured prison sentences against less connected criminals.

The enormous amounts of money involved in the illegal drug business provides an attractive temptation for police (local, state and federal) to lie and steal because much of that drug money is in the form of untraceable cash.

Many corruption charges against police involve allegations that law enforcers were skimming money in drug busts, reporting their seizure of a lower amount of cash than the money actually seized. In one Milwaukee drug corruption case, a police detective seized $23,000 but told his supervisors he only found $17,000.

During the past year alone, drug-related corruption arrests of police and others in law enforcement have occurred across America in places as diverse as Arkansas, Atlanta, Baltimore and Houston and even a small town in Illinois.

Often prosecutors and judges become ensnared in this Drug War corruption, as happened a few years ago when a prosecutor and a judge in Michigan were arrested for conspiring to allow perjured testimony in a cocaine-trafficking case.

Authorities have long known about the deep extent of drug-related corruption among police but downplay it as an acceptable (albeit detestable) element — a kind of collateral damage –embedded in the relentless push to wage and ‘win’ the War on Drugs.

The 1998 federal General Accounting Office report, for example, documented drug-related corruption among on-duty officers engaging in illegal conduct including stealing money from drug dealers, accepting money from dealers for protecting drug operations and providing false testimony in courts. (That false testimony often arises from the venal temptation to generate overtime pay for court testimony, a banal practice that parallels but is generally separate from hard-core corruption.)

The 1994 report of the Mollen Commission that investigated police corruption in New York City detailed drug-related corruption involving a variety of crimes.

The earlier 1970s-era Knapp Commission report on NYC police corruption also identified drug-related police corruption.

With the extent of drug-related corruption among police and/or the potential for corruption, police officials nationwide should be among the leading advocates for ending the Drug War, inclusive of backing the legalization of certain drugs, especially marijuana.

But politically, police as an institution, back the Drug War largely because it guarantees jobs plus it ensures lavish government funding that allows police to purchase fancy equipment – ‘tools’ – from sophisticated electronic surveillance gadgets to powerful guns and armored vehicles.

Another funding source for the purchase of those ‘police toys’ comes from laws that allow police departments to keep and profit from confiscated property of drug dealers.

Perversely, bankers busted for drug crimes are not forced by law enforcers to forfeit their houses in The Hamptons, their hi-end cars and their cash stashed with hedge fund investors. And another perversity of drug forfeitures, laws allow police to confiscate assets and cash on mere suspicion, resulting in thousands of innocent people being legally robbed yearly because they cannot afford to hire a lawyer to prove in court that the items confiscated by police have no drug involvement.

A group of activists plan a protest across from the White House on June 17th demanding that President Obama end the Drug War. Those activists include Dr. Ron Daniels, head of the Institute of the Black World 21st Century who blasts the Drug War’s devastating impact on black communities nationwide through mass incarceration and fanning violence from the drug economy existing in communities systemically drained of resources by governmental policies.

That protest is scheduled to take place in Lafayette Park, where in September 1989 federal drug agents cynically entrapped a DC high school student for the purpose of making a drug purchase that provided the small bag of crack cocaine that then U.S. President George H.W. Bush subsequently used as a prop during a televised press conference announcing his heightening of the Drug War.

That President Bush, whose son, an alleged cocaine user himself as a young man served as president years later, used that manipulated cocaine purchase to falsely claim that drug sales were flourishing on the doorstep of the White House when dramatizing his manufactured need to ramp up the Drug War.

The judge that sentenced that black DC teen to a mandatory prison term urged him to seek clemency from the president who crassly used him as a prop. President Bush never publicly acknowledged using that teen for political purposes nor did he pardon the teen whose life he ruined.