Philadelphia Police Plan a Proven Failure
For over seventy-five years, nervous law enforcement officials have tried to use a simple short-term trick against the public. Make a high profile show of force, add some arrests, and the police (and politicians) suddenly look smart. They don't have to arrest anyone dangerous or important so long as they have a good public relations department. And they certainly do not have to do anything serious to address the larger problem.
Can't we get past these childish publicity games? Here is a report on the newest such attempt. This comes from our friends at drcnet.org
by David BordenEvery so often, a big city police force decides it will "solve" the drug problem once and for all with a massive show of force. The latest incarnation is Philadelphia's "Operation Safe Streets," planning not huge numbers of arrests, they say (hmph, I'll believe that when I see it), just a lot of officers being present in the areas where open-air drug markets currently operate, making their sellers unable to sell.
Several years ago, the Boston police decided to make a show of force in Mission Hill, a housing project in the Roxbury (Mandela) area that had a massive drug and drug sales problem. In late spring of 1995, they swept in and swept the drug dealers out, so they said, bringing a small measure of calm to the suffering neighborhood. It didn't prevent gang members from approaching kids on their way to school and asking them to sell drugs for them, a friend told me, but it had a certain amount of impact, at least for awhile.
A couple of weeks later, I saw an article in the Boston Globe about gunfights in the nearby Dorchester neighborhood. The dealers from Mission Hill, it turns out, had out of economic necessity moved in to new turf, and Dorchester's established dealers weren't happy about it. The heroin they brought with them was also a change to Dorchester at that time, adding another hard drug to the neighborhood's mix. Needless to say, the gunfighting in Dorchester that the Roxbury Mission Hill operation had prompted did nothing to help that area's quality of life.
Shifting around some drug dealers, causing some dangerous gunfights and bringing heroin to new neighborhoods -- is this the best plan that the police can come up with?
A former narcotics prosecutor told me once that a law enforcer can rack up many years of experience, or can experience just the same year over and over and learn little or nothing. The police planners mounting Operation Safe Streets, if they truly believe in it, need to show a little more imagination; doing the same thing over and over again will not produce substantially different results in the long term. More thoughtful observers, including a good number of prominent law enforcement officials, understand that new approaches are needed if better results are to be ultimately achieved -- and better results are clearly needed.
There will always be people who use drugs, and there will always be people who are willing to pay large amounts of money for them. There will therefore always be people ready, willing and able to supply them, one way or another. Only a legal, regulated market can supplant the violent and disorderly illicit market that plagues so many of our nation's poorest neighborhoods. Philadelphia would benefit from more enlightened thinking on drug policy than its current leadership is willing to provide.
Why can't law enforcement officials understand the most basic concepts of supply and demand? Why do politicians' brains suddenly turn to mush when looking at the issue of drug laws? Tell your better ideas to The Progress Report's readers:
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