09/22/13 Steve Downing

Century of Lies

Steven Downing, Deputy Police Chief of Los Angels (ret), board member of Law Enforcement Against Prohibition appeals to working Sheriffs, Police Chiefs and administrators to examine drug war policy in "Open Democracy"

Audio file


Century of Lies September 22, 2013


DEAN BECKER: The failure of Drug War is glaringly obvious to judges, cops, wardens, prosecutors and millions more. Now calling for decriminalization, legalization, the end of prohibition. Let us investigate the Century of Lies.


DEAN BECKER: Hello my friends. Welcome to this edition of Century of Lies. Today we have a show designed for sheriffs and deputies and cops and wardens and all those folks out there persecuting this drug war.

One of my fellow “Caravaneros” from last summer, journeyed across America with the Caravan for Peace, Justice and Dignity, on the executive board of my band of brothers, Law Enforcement Against Prohibition, former Deputy Police Chief of Los Angeles, I’m proud to have with us Mr. Steve Downing. How are you?

STEVE DOWNING: I’m good, Dean. How are you today?

DEAN BECKER: I’m wonderful. Steve, you had a great article that was just posted in http://OpenDemocracy.net that talks about this very subject. Fill the listeners in on what that’s about.

STEVE DOWNING: It’s my effort to, in a way, communicate with law enforcement executives to help them pierce the bubble of the law enforcement culture and emerge to see really what the harms of the War on Drugs are. The harms imposed on our society by the War on Drugs greatly outweighs the harms that drugs impose on our society.

The article was my way of trying to communicate with them and, number one, tell them that there is a historical basis for what has gone wrong with the drug war, what has gone wrong with the policies. I kind of started out by quoting them the following:

“Prohibition will work great injury to the cause of temperance. It is a species of intemperance within itself, for it goes beyond the bounds of reason in that it attempts to control a man’s appetite by legislation, and makes a crime out of things that are not crimes. A prohibition law strikes a blow at the very principles upon which our government was founded.”

I provided that statement to them in my article because who doesn’t have a respect for the man who said that – Abraham Lincoln. That is what he said to the Illinois House of Representatives on December 18, 1840.

Then I took a jump from there and one of the most respected law enforcement organizations for executives and chiefs is the International Association of Chiefs of Police. One of the most respected law enforcement chiefs in history, the chief of police who is known as the “father of professional policing”. He served as the ninth president of the International Association of Chiefs of Police but even more importantly in addition to introducing real professionalism for police across the United States he was the primary author of the Wickersham Commission report which is the document that gave the greatest emphasis to ending the prohibition of alcohol.

Vollmer’s report concluded that the prohibition of alcohol gave birth to organized crime, the corruption of law enforcement and our political institutions across the nation, as well as the highest rates of violence in the history of the United States. He believed the same was true of police involvement with the problem of drug addiction. According to Vollmer, the enforcement of moralistic vice laws leads to police corruption and “engenders disrespect both for law and for the agents of law enforcement”.

So now we have Abraham Lincoln back in 1840 and then we have the experience of alcohol prohibition and the Wickersham report that comes out and says prohibition is about the worst thing you can do to a country and it is the most corrupting thing you can do to your institutions especially your criminal justice institutions.

It was my hope that these two giants in history would get their attention and say to them that we’re not blowing smoke here as people from Law Enforcement Against Prohibition. We are individual thinkers who had the same experience that you have on the street in the trenches of the drug war and we saw something differently than you’re seeing today. The reason that we saw that is we were willing to look outside of the law enforcement bubble and take a hard look.

What tried to convey to them from my experience having been a drug enforcement commander when Nixon announced the War on Drugs in 1972 was to share with them my experiences and my lack of success. What I shared with them is that when we first started there were 3 or 4 local little neighborhood gangs with membership less than 100. Prison gangs at the time were unheard of and the cartels were shadows somewhere in Latin America.

Today there are 33,000 street and prison gangs with a membership of 1,500,000. The cartels are here in America. The DEA says they control drug distribution in one thousand American cities. Recently the Washington Post said that the DEA was blowing smoke and it wasn’t that many cities but, regardless, in 1972 they weren’t here so somewhere between 1,000 and whatever the Washington Post said.

We’ve also in the last 6 years murdered about 60,000 people because of our drug habit in Mexico along with 20,000 that have disappeared. I pointed out to them that they’ve become addicted to the drug money and they have allowed the federal government to leverage their local resources to fight the War on Drugs rather than to be attentive to the needs of public safety.

I also told them that their activities in allowing the federal government to leverage them, becoming addicted to federal grants, becoming addicted to asset seizure sharing, becoming addicted to having slush fund and diverting their resources that over the last 40 years they’ve been responsible for the arrest 43 million of our citizens for non-violent drug offenses and about half of that 43 million is for the mere possession of marijuana.

In making those arrests I tried to point out that they really should think about the fact that those arrests have racial profiling at their core and that the vast majority of those arrests while all ethnic groups use drugs about the same the focus has been on the black and brown and especially the black.

I gave them an example from Michelle Alexander’s outstanding book examining the War on Drugs called “The New Jim Crow.” I quoted from her book just to drive home what this drug war means to the black community. As you know today one of our colleagues, Jim Gierach in Chicago, is reporting daily on the slaughter that is happening on those streets – multiple, multiple murders every weekend. Shootings in 2 digits – 20 and 30 shootings over a weekend.

Chicago is a place where Al Capone reined and where the greatest violence during alcohol prohibition occurred in this country. It’s repeating that. But here’s the experience in Chicago repeated from Michelle Alexander’s book, “The New Jim Crow”. She is saying these 43 million arrests that I’m talking about has really served to produce a new caste system that has racial profiling at its core. She said,

“The impact of this new caste system is most tragically felt among the young. In Chicago (as in other cities across the United States), young black men are more likely to go to prison than to college. As of June 2001, there were nearly 20,000 more black men in the Illinois state prison system than enrolled in the state’s public universities. In fact, there were more black men in the state’s correctional facilities that year just on drug charges than the total number of black men enrolled in undergraduate degree programs in state universities. To put the crisis in even sharper focus, consider this: just 992 black men received a bachelor’s degree from Illinois state universities in 1999, while roughly 7,000 black men were released from the state prison system the following year just for drug offenses.”

So prisons are receiving prisoners in a racial mode that’s completely out of whack with a balanced society. Prisons are receiving more money today than schools. In my state in 1980 the prison budget was 3%. Today the prison budget is over 11%. The prisons today in California get more money than our schools.

Since 1980 we’ve built 23 prisons in California. We have hired thousands and thousands of prison guards while we have fired thousands and thousands of teachers. Something needs to correct that because if we continue on this kind of path what’s going to happen to our society?

It’s unraveling in the minority communities because of this drug war. It’s beginning to unravel in other communities especially in our major cities.

Those are the things that I’m trying to say to law enforcement executives across the nation in this article but at the same time I recognize that in this country we have a rule of law but there are certain things we can within the rule of law until our politicians decided that the Controlled Substances Act especially Schedule I is overturned and it’s returned to the states to regulate and control all drugs – all drugs – because the violence and this mass incarceration is not going to stop until we recognize just like Vollmer recognized and just like Lincoln recognized that prohibition of any kind doesn’t work. Regulation and control is what government should be involved in.

I said to the chiefs until that gets done and you can help get it done by pressuring your politicians to make the change rather than pressuring them to keep the status quo which most law enforcement organizations do. They want to keep the status quo and it’s because of two reasons. The money is too good and the culture has not changed with the times.

I am saying to them to encourage the elimination of prohibition and until that is accomplished what you do have the latitude to do is implement what I recommend as an interim ten point policy program for local law enforcement.

DEAN BECKER: This is Dean Becker. You are listening to Century of Lies on the Drug Truth Network and Pacifica Radio. Our guest is Steven Downing, former Deputy Police Chief of Los Angeles and on the Board of Directors of Law Enforcement Against Prohibition. He is speaking to law enforcement officials. Put your ears on.

STEVE DOWNING: Those ten points are these... 1. Make street level drug arrests the lowest enforcement priority. In other words keep your troops out on the streets looking at property and crimes against persons.

2. Prohibit arrest quota management practices and reward systems for low level misdemeanor and felony drug arrests.

Quotas are corrupting. Quotas lead to cheating. Quotas lead to what we call “noble cause corruption”.

3. Establish “consent search” policies that prohibit fishing expeditions and unreasonable detentions.

This what I call “noble cause corruption” raised its ugly head with this consent search and fourth amendment cheating. All that does is anger the community and it turns them against the police officers. If police departments with established consent search policies that prohibit fishing expeditions and unreasonable detentions we would have a better interaction with our communities. Our communities would be more willing to report crimes and all that.

4. Make money laundering, prosecution of bankers and seizures of cash leaving the country the highest drug enforcement priority, both through local investigations and work with the federal task forces. (Economists have stated that a 30% cut in cartel cash flow would put them out of business, as it would any business).

Well, it would put anybody out of business but we’re not doing that especially the federal government is not doing that. We are continuing with this slaughter of mass incarceration and kicking down doors and killing dogs and sending SWAT teams out when we just went through a multi-billion dollar money laundering scheme with HSDC bank and let them off the hook with a fine. That tells you how serious the federal government is about fighting this War on Drugs.

5. Audit the frequency of property crimes in selected neighborhoods prior and subsequent to all drug enforcement raids (including those by the DEA) to measure the impact upon public safety.

The dirty little secret that law enforcement executives will never tell you is that when there is a large scale drug raid in a neighborhood or a small community immediately following that raid crime goes up. It’s a historical fact. Crime goes up every time there is a raid because what’s happening in that raid is the structure is disturbed and the prices are driven up and the addict can’t meet the prices. All of these things come together to cause more crime in a community rather than less.

7. Recognize the sovereignty of the people and state under the Constitution by prohibiting the use of local police resources to “partner” with the federal government in their assault on legal medical marijuana and recreational drug dispensaries.

What’s happening in California to just give you one example. Got a little town that doesn’t like the fact that there’s a legal medical marijuana dispensary – this is a case in Anaheim – but this is routine so the police officer goes undercover and defrauds a doctor in order to get a letter.

Then the police officer goes undercover to the dispensary and defrauds the dispensary owner or clerk by presenting that letter representing themself as a medical marijuana patient and then buying (in the case of Anaheim) $34 worth of marijuana.

Then they seize all the property in the dispensary – all the cash, all the business machines, all their records – and they dispose of it as quickly as they can at auction or they turn it over to the federal government under asset seizure.

Then might have invested their retirement fund and own that building free and clear. There’s 8 stores in the building they turn this $34 medical marijuana buy into an asset seizure and the federal government has seized these 2 people’s building valued at 1.5 million dollars.

What I’m saying that local police have no business dealing directly with the federal government in situations such as this because they’re contrary to public safety. They’re contrary to the job of police officers in local communities. Police chiefs and every officer working for him raises his right hand and swears and oath to the constitution of their state, their sovereign states and the law of that state and the will of the people.

In California the will of the people is 55% said they wanted to legalize medical marijuana but what are our police organizations doing? They’re running to the federal government to try to enforce federal law. Hopefully that’s going to abate with this new policy announcement by the DOJ.

8. Decline to participate in the federal government’s “Equitable Sharing” program, which promotes a lower threshold of proof than that required by asset seizure laws in most states and encourages the corrupting practice of “policing for profit.”

Just get out of that business. 80% of asset seizures have no prosecution accompanied with them. That means they’re out there grabbing right and left all the money they can and it’s the most corrupting thing in the history of law enforcement. Worse than the Capone era.

They are depending on their cash flow, their slush funds by preying on the people in their communities without bringing a prosecution that says that person committed a crime and they were prosecuted for that crime beyond a reasonable doubt.

9. Audit the expenditure of city funds used to support membership in professional law enforcement organizations that support goals and lobbying activity contrary to the mission, goals, ethics and policies of the police department.

If you look at a lot of these police departments they have their mission, their goals, their policies, these noble, ethical standards that they have established for themselves but they pay membership to organizations like the California Narcotic Officers Association in my state or the Association of the Chiefs of Police in my state. Those organizations really misrepresent the will of the people and they stand in the way of the will of the people rather than working to implement the laws that the people want.

When they pass recreational or medical marijuana laws what they need to do is they need to behave like that sheriff up in Washington that testified at the Leahy hearing last week and said it’s time that we recognize that this is what the people want.

He said “Government has failed in terms of prohibition and drug policy. Government has failed. The people want a change. They passed this change legally. Now it’s my obligation as their sheriff to get the job done for them.”

Well, what a refreshing guy. These guys here in California and many other states across the nation they say, “Screw the people. We want to do it the way that we want to do it and we don’t want it.”

That’s got to be turned around.

10. Review and audit all federal drug enforcement grants and determine if the “strings” attached are consistent with the mission, goals, ethics and code of conduct of local law enforcement.

I think if local law enforcement across this country implemented these ten principles that they can – they have the discussion to do that – it would serve to reduce many of the harms imposed by the War on Drugs. It would serve to show symbolically that there’s a recognition that prohibition has failed. It would help bring us closer to the elimination of the Controlled Substances Act.

So, Dean, that’s basically what I tried to tell the chiefs in this article which can be found on Open Democracy (http://www.opendemocracy.net/stephen-downing/drugs-war-lost-and-way-for…). The name of the article is, “Drugs: a war lost and a way forward.”

It can also be found on the LEAP Facebook page.

DEAN BECKER: You’re talking to the sheriffs and these other people wearing the badge swearing to uphold the constitution and I think the one thing that I would have thrown in there is to ask, “What is the benefit? What have we derived from this policy that offsets the horrible blowback?”

Your thought there, Steve.

STEVE DOWNING: Absolutely. We haven’t derived anything positive. Their answer will be what I call the Harry Anslinger myth making. They make all this stuff up. They depend on DEA-provided statistics.

They always reduce themselves to talking about the medical harm of drugs. Law enforcement is not in the medical business. This is a health and educational problem. The police have no business dealing with that. There is no other health and educational problem that is given to the criminal justice system so why should this one be given there?

I’ll tell you what. If it was handed off to the educational and medical authorities and the police were allowed to go back and do their job of ensuring the public safety I think we would see a dramatic change in this country.

DEAN BECKER: In so many ways.

Once again we’ve been speaking with Steve Downing, former Deputy Police Chief of Los Angeles and on the Board of Directors of Law Enforcement Against Prohibition.

By the way our website is http://www.leap.cc Please check it out.

Steve, no matter how much we lean on these law enforcement officials we do need the support and the backing and the words of “Joe citizen” out there as well don’t we?

STEVE DOWNING: We absolutely do because politicians don’t lead anymore. It’s the people that lead and the politicians follow. This tipping point that we’re reaching now we’re not going to push it over until we get the people across this country saying, “Yes, this drug war is a failure. Yes, we need to legalize, regulate and control drugs and we need to get health and education in the hands of health and education people and public safety back in the hands of our local law enforcement officers.”


DEAN BECKER: I want to thank Steven Downing. I want to thank the good folks at LEAP.cc I encourage you to invite one of our speakers to speak to your organization.

Prohibido istac evilesco!


For the Drug Truth Network, this is Dean Becker asking you to examine our policy of Drug Prohibition.

The Century of Lies.

This show produced at the Pacifica Studios of KPFT, Houston.

Transcript provided by: Jo-D Harrison of www.DrugSense.org