09/16/20 Neil Woods

Cultural Baggage Radio Show
Neil Woods
Law Enforcement Action Partnership

Neil Woods a long time undercover policeman in the UK is now the Exec Dir of Law Enforcement Action Partnership for all of Europe

Audio file

Dean Becker: (00:12)
Kind of kickstart this, uh, the friends we're speaking with, uh, officer Neil woods, he's now head of law enforcement action partnership based in the UK. And I want you to, if you will, Neil, tell us a little bit about your experience as a law enforcement officer.

Neil Woods: (00:29)
Well, I served for 23 years, uh, over the, over 13 of those years, I worked undercover, so I infiltrated, um, street dealing gangs, um, and just sort of try to, uh, see how far into the gang I could get. So I would spend six or seven months at a time gathering evidence of conspiracy buying drugs, um, to, to bring down gangs down in any particular city. So I traveled around the UK to do that as far North as leads as far South as Brighton and lots of, uh, lots of places in between.

Dean Becker: (01:06)
Well, tell us a little bit about what did that accomplish. Were you able to stop the gang's existence? Were you able to stop the flow of drugs? What impediments did you put in place there?

Neil Woods: (01:20)
Well, you know, when I started that kind of work, I was 23 and I was very pleased with myself. Really, the fact, you know, I was, I was a young man and it was turning out that, um, I was finding out that I was the kind of person that could be in risky situations and managed to function. Well, you know, I got very into the development of the tactics. I got very, um, and, you know, for anyone who's ever worked in, in the sphere of covert drugs, policing, you know, there's a real centering of expertise and excellence in policing. And there's really hardworking, dedicated cops who work in that kind of, that kind of realm. And I was, I was, I loved it. And you know, the first few years I, I saw what appeared to be successes, you know, but then the six month operation, I'd be catching 50 off gangsters and putting all sorts of people in prison will be seizing, all sorts of huge amounts of crack and heroin.

Neil Woods: (02:22)
And you know, it, it felt good for a while, but you know, eventually depending how to drop for me or not, I'll describe for you a particular operation, which make things very, very clear to me what success is and isn't, um, I, I infiltrated this gang. It's very, very infamous gang in the UK, uh, famous for certain murders machine gunning of two women and in Birmingham, or very, very notorious going to just call the burger bar boys. And they'd taken over the supply of, um, heroin and crack in a town of Northampton. So that's where infiltrated them. And it took seven months, a huge amounts of work. One time I was stripped at gunpoint. Um, I thought I was going to die on a couple of occasions on that operation. At the end of it, I call it the six main gangsters, both of our boys, they off 10 years in president of peace, good evidence, but 90 other people.

Neil Woods: (03:20)
So there were 96 people caught from that seven month operation. And, you know, I knew after seven months that I had got nobody else in that town to gather evidence against I had caught everybody because there were no new phone numbers to get. There were no new people to meet. I've met everybody. I got the entire town tied up completely. I knew where the drugs were, where the money was going. I bought no. There was evidence against all these huge amounts of people. I know anybody that there was, it was a huge operation. There was police from five different counties involved in all of the rates and, um, a week or so after the dust died down, the intelligence officer spoke to me on the phone and he says, yeah, we managed to interrupt the heroin and crack cocaine supply in Northampton for a full two hours, seven months of work, 96 people arrest at almost getting myself killed to interrupt the drug flow for two hours.

Neil Woods: (04:20)
Now, I don't know for certain that it was the burger bar, boys famous rivals the Johnson crew who stepped in to take over the supply. But, but you can picture the scene. Can't you, the rival gangsters. They hear the news and they say, Hey boys, look what the cops have done for us. And this is fantastic. Pull the call him. We're going to make a killing with this new market. That's opened up wonderful. And, uh, and, and, you know, depending has to drop eventually. That's, that's all we're doing. You know, we might be filling the prisons up and it might look impressive to, to people who haven't really dug a bit deeper, you know, but you're just taking out the competition for the rivals. That's all we're doing now. So it's few tile. Yeah. It's few tile, but futility would be bad enough, but it's far worse than few tile because, you know, wherever the police have success like this, and I use the word success very loosely.

Neil Woods: (05:25)
Now, wherever police have success like this, it creates something called the freelancer effect. And that means, and police have this in their intelligence. They're aware of this everywhere in the world, because I've spoken to cops from all over the world. Then, um, Australia, Denmark, USA, doesn't matter. I've spoken to them all over and all cops see this in their intelligence that wherever the police have a success with drug dealing, they create this and people step in to compete over that market share, which in most cases causes an increase in violence. That's the freelance rip back. So it's not just a few tile. Now this is, this is causing the violence is actually fueling the violence. And I've seen this time and time again it now, unfortunately it took me a long time for the penny to drop. Do you have that expression over there? The Patty to drop for them?

Dean Becker: (06:23)
I've, I've spoken to enough Bridgestone to know what it means, but yes, it's not that common here. Let me interrupt you just for a second to say this, that well, folks, this gentlemen has risked his life. I mean, as he indicated, strip naked gunpoint, uh, et cetera, uh, to, to force the effort of these gangs, these cartels, these traffickers, and, and, and as you indicated, Neil, um, when you bust one gang it's music to the ears of the other gang, because it's a great opportunity and the same holds true on the international scale. I heard the Chapo Guzman knives, a hundred feet under Rocky mountain somewhere, but he bribed officials and maneuvered the situation so that his drugs made it across the border. And the other traffickers were caught up by the police. Corruption is everywhere in this drug. Where is it not new?

Neil Woods: (07:18)
Yeah, absolutely. Of course it is because it's one of the biggest industries in the world and it's, and it's completely unregulated. It's half a trillion worldwide in the UK. It's 10 billion pounds a year. Um, but there's, there's, it's not just a huge value in the market, which causes the corruption. There's another aspect, which again, we observe every level and you're right to say that it's the same internationally, but the mechanism that causes corruption, that I'm about to describe to you works at every single level. It works at sort of regional in a nation. It works at national level and international level. You see where we do take out the competition and we catch a gang, a cartel, et cetera. It does mean that another gang has an increase in the market share. Now I think it's economics. What I want that an unregulated market in any unregulated market monopolies appear, you know, it's a basic economic truth, but with the illicit drugs market, the mechanism of monopolies forming is actually accelerated by the actions of police.

Neil Woods: (08:23)
So where you have, why you create a gap in the market and you get rid of a gang, it's actually usually the most successful gang. It's the gang that's already dominant, which takes advantage of that and expands into that space. This is why they used to be 20 cartels in Mexico. Now there are only three, but you see those three cartels now have a much bigger share of the market, which means they are individually richer, which means they can use much more of their disposable income to corrupt system. So the mechanism of policing is actually what leads to increase corruption. Now, what gang with enough money would not corrupt the system to protect themselves. It's the opposite strategic thing to do. Now? I, I, I came across corruption many times, um, working undercover. And in fact, they were theoretical safeguards put in place to protect me from police corruption.

Neil Woods: (09:24)
So for example, the team that would be the backup team around me. They weren't allowed to know my real name or where I came from. And they were told at the start of the job, they would be disciplined if they even asked me. So I was using the same pseudonym to the gangsters as I was to the cops. That's because corruption is so rife. That's what there was built in to protect, to protect me. Theoretically. Now I was four and a half months into an operation investigating the best wood cartels and infamous gangsters in Nottingham while I was investigating diamonds and a few of, but I only got into the periphery of the best one cartel, but it turned out they got much closer to my inner circle because four and a half months in, I got a replacement car into, into my backup. And, um, I was introduced to him, shook his hand.

Neil Woods: (10:14)
The house just went up in the back of my neck. Everything about this guy screamed wrong. You know, when you've been working the cover for quite a few months, your sense is a fairly fine tune to the point of almost paranoia. And this guy just wasn't right. So I got him excluded from the operation. I didn't think too much more of it, but when Colin guns gangster was brought down about 12 months later, it turned out that this car that I had taken exception to was an employee of the gangster. He'd been paid to join the place. So he wasn't corrupted once and he was paid to join the place. He was paid 2000 pounds a month on top of his police wages, plus bonuses for good information. Now, you know, I was aware of corruption. I come up against it, but this was still just jaw-dropping.

Neil Woods: (11:05)
It was, it was, it was shocking. But in meetings with senior police after that, and a sort of debrief, you know, I was told by senior cops, well, of course this happens. We know this happens with this much money involved, how can it not happen? So it is accepted by police leaders, not just the UK, cause I've spoken with police leaders all over the place, including the USA. It is accepted that this corruption is endemic and impossible to defend against because what successful organized crime group would not employ people to join the police. Why would they not? And I don't want my CR our criminal justice system corrupted by gangsters, but the only way we can ever stop this is by taking the market off them, taking the power away from them, by regulating the markets. And, you know, we, it might be a stretch of the imagination for most people in a stable democracy like the UK or the USA or, or Norway.

Neil Woods: (12:08)
It might be a stretch of people's imagination to see themselves as going in the same direction as Mexico, you know, and, you know, because Mexico is so extreme or Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, and West Africa is now a narco state or where all the other democracy democracies that are being eroded by, by drugs money. But, you know, we're only going in that direction. We are all going in that direction. We're at the thin end of the same wedge. And don't underestimate the extent of the corruption in your police and criminal justice system, because the longer and harder we fight this war, more likely that corruption is going to increase.

Dean Becker: (12:44)
Yeah, no, very, very astute observations. And Neil, thank you for that. Oh, by the way, friends, Neil is a author of a great book, a good cop bad war, which kind of explains his history. I think dealing with those gangs, he also wrote a book, uh, with a mr. Rafi, Ellie, I believe it is drug Wars, the, uh, uh, inside story of Britain's drug trade, uh, which, uh, further examines this situation. Now, Neil, I wanna kind of switch gears here, if you will. Um, you know, we have in the U S um, a recognition and I, and I think it exists to some degree in the UK as well, but a recognition of the inherent, the built in racism that, uh, drives many of the forces of this drug war. Uh, it rears its ugly head seems like every day here in the U S uh, uh, many times we, we see these mostly young black men being gunned down, not necessarily for possessing drugs, but because we have this system that makes everyone a suspect that everyone might have drugs, that they might be dangerous because of drugs. Would you respond to that thought, please, sir?

Neil Woods: (13:59)
Yeah, certainly. I mean, look, the, the issue of racial justice is inseparable from drug policy because drug drug policy is what maintains the structural racism within, within, within our societies. But it, you have to bear in mind that the USA has a slightly different view of this. I mean, I, I, in for drug Wars, I researched the way that, um, USA drug policy, uh, destroyed the UK drug policy because you know, this international drug policy, it's a USA invention. It's essentially, you know, it's a, state's moral imperialism because in the UK, we didn't really have a problem with drugs until we were forced through diplomatic international pressure to, to follow the USA way of doing things. And the reason that that is there's only one nation on earth came out of the second world war richer than before, because they that's the USA because they'd loaned everybody the money to fight the war.

Neil Woods: (14:59)
So everyone owed the money to the USA, and that's why, um, USA drug policy now dominates the globe. So up until the end of the 1970s, if someone had a problem with heroin in the UK, they were prescribed by the doctor. And as a result of that, we didn't have a heroin problem. It was only 1046 people using heroin at the end of the 1960s. As soon as that market was given to the illicit market to the, to the criminals, they went up to 300,000. So that's the USA policy, but to bring you back to your point, USA drug policy is entirely founded on racism. It was all about control of minorities. So opium wasn't seen as a problem until Chinese immigrants who were still there after building railways were seen to be a problem

Dean Becker: (15:49)
Jobs. It was a way of persecuting that minority

Neil Woods: (15:52)
Cocaine wasn't seen as anything other than a tonic for houseboat Housewives until until black people were seen to be using it, or it was a way of persecuting black people. It was, it was an extension of the Jim Crow laws. That's, that's what the ban on cocaine was. I mean, we call it cannabis in Europe and in America you call it marijuana because it was a way of encouraging it to be seen as a Mexican problem or way of persecuting Mexicans during the great depression, when Mexicans were seen to be stealing white jobs, it was a way of persecuting. It's always been about racism, even, even alcohol prohibition was about persecuting. The other, you know, the main sponsors of alcohol prohibition was the Klu Klux Klan because they hated Catholics. And Catholic immigrants were seem to be the people who drank more alcohol and Protestants, but it was true actually at that time, Catholics did, you know, the Irish and the Italians did drink more alcohol than the traditional puritanical Protestants. But so that was, it was more about hating Catholics than anything else. It's always been a tool of oppression for minorities, for those other people. But unfortunately, you know, the internal domestic racism of the United States has been very aggressively exported around the world. And that's why the rest of the world has this policy. And, you know, speaking as a Brit from a country that spent hundreds of years building an empire, you would have thought that we would be more aware that we are now part of a moral imperialism from the United States. Yeah,

Dean Becker: (17:37)
No, very true. And of course you're, you're aware of that as kind of the focus of this program is to examine this moral posturing, this a moral high ground. If you will, now there is change the foot. There is a hope, uh, around, um, and, um, uh, Canada, the police officers association has come out calling for decrim to follow in the footsteps of what Portugal has done. Um, dr. Kendall up there is wanting to purchase heroin cheaply and make it available to their, uh, their heroin users, uh, at a reasonable price to curtail the overdose deaths and the spread of disease and infections, et cetera. And in the UK, as I understand it, the police, um, hierarchy is re-examining their position, maybe leaning towards decriminalizing drugs, maybe changing their positions as well. Am I correct there, sir?

Neil Woods: (18:34)
Yeah. I mean, the UK is a fun, fascinating example of world drug policy shifts because it's, it says police voices, which are leading the debate, the police are way ahead of politicians. And in fact, um, where some police leaders have been bringing in heroin assisted treatment, actually paying for free prescriptions of heroin for problematic users, the home office, the government has said, well, we expect our police to uphold the law. Um, but the police are going ahead and doing their own reforms. We have, um, in the terms Valley, which covers Oxford, there's a police force that I've brought in a diversion scheme for drug possession, which is pre arrest so that people don't even have an era, a record of arrest on that on a record, you know, that they are, they are that if the drugs are found, the drugs are merely taken off them and they are given an appointment to see a drug worker just to check them up and see if they are okay.

Neil Woods: (19:34)
And if they need out and that's it, that's the sum total of the police involvement, no criminal record, no arrest, no trauma created to the, to someone who may or may not need help for that drug use. And you know, that to me, that's even better than Portugal. That's, that's, that's an even more efficient form of decriminalization, the Portugal about this display of poach clubs, these dissuasion committees, where people have to speak to a panel about that drug use. But I think it's more efficient just to, to get someone, to see a drug worker, you know, just get someone to see an expert and see if the, if they do need help. Um, you know, it's just pragmatic policing. It's, it's following evidence for what is helpful to somebody's health and society. And, you know, there is good evidence, these diversion schemes from where they happen in other parts of the country, they have actually reduced crime. So you've got to go with the evidence and I applaud the police, some of my colleagues in the UK for bravely bringing in these policies in spite of politics and not because of it. And of course I applaud the Canadian chiefs, but you know, we've got police voices speaking out on reforms across Europe as part of, um, leap your law enforcement action partnership.

Dean Becker: (20:52)
No, uh, Neil, I want to kind of shift gears again here to B the efforts of leap, you know, in the UK and in Europe, in, in the U S and it is to educate the populace, to help them develop the courage, to speak up to their, their elected officials. I think that is the, the stairway we're trying to create. And we also are trying to influence those politicians ourselves when given that chance, when able to speak directly to, uh, the, the leaders of this drug war, so to speak. And even here in the, in the U S uh, the other day, Joe Biden was quoted as saying, no one should go to jail anymore for drugs, they should be forced to go to treatment. Now, I don't like the idea of being forced to go to treatment, but it is a change, at least in the perspective at the top hierarchy of the U S your, your thought there, Neil.

Neil Woods: (21:51)
Yeah. It's, it's, it's proof actually. It's very encouraging to someone like me and other people, you know, in leap that we can win over anybody, almost anybody, if you, if you, if you show them that support is going in that direction, that the public has behind them. And that they've got the voices of law enforcement figures from leap behind them. And Joe, Biden's the perfect example of that because wow, hasn't he come a long way. Wow. Um, yeah. And, and it is very encouraging and the idea of forced treatment is obscene. Of course, however, it's still far is his position is still far, far back. So, but yeah, I mean, leap is, is key in this debate. We, you know, people out there should not underestimate our importance because we really are having significant influence, really significant influence around the world. In the UK. For example, we spoke arts, um, the labor party conference last year, we spoke at the conservative party conference last year.

Neil Woods: (22:56)
We spoke at the Scottish national party conference last year. Uh, we also have allies in, in, in Clyde Comrie and the liberal party. So, you know, we are, we are having real influence in politics. And of course, the reason for that is we're having influence with the public because, you know, with any social justice issue, um, it's the social movement, which causes the change in politics. It's, it's very rarely political leadership from above it's, it's the shift in public mood, you know, whether you're talking about, um, homosexual rights or, or, or whatever, the social justice issue with tears, it's the social movement, which does it. And, you know, and the social movements is gathering pace rapidly. So, so, you know, anyone out there who's not aware of the work that leaked does, please leap because we are the key players who can help the suit social movement grow because, you know, with our U S people, our USP people tend to listen to us, but also at the same time, we give great cover for politicians.

Neil Woods: (24:04)
Politicians are willing to be braver in what they say, because they've got a police, police, voices supporting them in it. You know, we really do have an important parts play and certainly leap in the USA at the moment. Well, they are growing so rapidly. Um, they working so hard, they're having so many new people join them. You know, there's a, there's a real tipping point happening because of what Lipa doing in the USA. And, um, so please support them, anyone out there support them, however you can, and let's keep that momentum going. It's incredible what they're doing, he really is.

Dean Becker: (24:42)
No, this is kind of, I'm stretching things a bit, perhaps, but, uh, you know, I know when you talk to leaders in the UK or around Europe, um, you, you try to, um, educate them, um, and motivate them to move in that right direction. And, and part of my goal here with this, uh, seeking the moral high ground is to, uh, to motivate the U S politicians in particular, Donald Trump, or Joe Biden, to speak more openly about this. And, and I'll give you my 32nd spiel, and that is we're empowering terrorists, cartels, and gangs. We're ensuring more overdose deaths, children's easy access. And what is the benefit? What offsets the horror we inflict on the whole world, uh, through this belief. And if we could just pose that question, that, uh, scenario to these two gentlemen, Trump and Biden, I think they would be forced to answer more openly, more honestly with, would you agree with that thought, what should, what should these, how can we force these gentlemen to face down this toothless lie?

Neil Woods: (25:50)
Well, yeah, I mean, first, first of all, what I would say is that an evidence based drug policy is not too much too much to ask. And where, where do we go for evidence rather than moral posturing? That's where we tend to get movement forwards because the evidence is so overwhelming that reforms work, whichever incremental reforms we're talking about, whether it's a harm reduction, um, specifically opioid substitution, treatment hearts, you know, heroin, prescribing decriminalization, and most importantly regulation, you know, there is evidence that, that, that these, these changes in policies work, but, but there's, there's a, there's an unholy Alliance between politicians and media journalism and what each has been supporting the other in this sort of weaponizing of the issue for a very long time. But I think what politicians need to realize is the public are now seeing through this, despite this weight of propaganda, that's come from politicians and journalists alike.

Neil Woods: (26:51)
You know, that that, that there is a truth here coming through that they need to get behind or be judged very harshly by history because it's not going to be too much in the near future. While we look back on this period of time and think how, how could we as a society have allowed that policy to continue? You know, they need to feel the weight of the judgment of history because now is the turning point. So which, which of them will get behind these reforms, but shift them will take that moral high ground that th that the lives of problematic drug users are as valuable as everybody else's