An Open Letter to California Chiefs of Police and Sheriffs

– Former LAPD Deputy Chief

Dear Fellow Law Enforcers,
The federal government has put up another $72 million in “war-on-drugs-grants” to redirect your police resources once again from true public safety duties in order to extend their failed war on drugs; this time with a savage assault on California’s 15-year-old medical marijuana law. Are you going to take the money and enforce federal law in lieu of upholding the will of the people of California or are you going to honor your sworn oath to uphold the laws of our sovereign state and send the money back?
August Vollmer, the police chief whose name is synonymous with the origins of professionalism in American policing, would urge you to send it back.
In his work as president of the International Association of Chiefs of Police (IACP) and the Wickersham Commission Vollmer contributed to the successful campaign that led to the repeal of alcohol Prohibition. In an address to the IACP he stated “drug addiction is not a police problem; it never has and never can be solved by policemen, but by scientific and competently trained medical experts…”
Unfortunately Vollmer wasn’t around when Nixon decided to wage his war on drugs against the American people in 1971. I was a police commander in South Central Los Angeles at the time, and most of us believed Nixon’s propaganda; that it was a just war, that the “druggies” were evil and comprised a threat to our communities.
We saw our resources dedicated to public safety bought off by Department of Justice and White House grants so that we could leverage their political priorities at the expense of our communities. Using their grant money and the lure of budget dollars though asset seizures they co-opted our public safety priorities and our role as public servants in deciding what was best for our communities. Evidence based budgeting and responsible, prioritized policing went out the window in favor of the war on drugs. We morphed from public servant to drug warrior; blindly serving their interests and their agreements with those who benefited most by a continuation of their war on drugs. We helped them invade and occupy our poorer communities. Their money allowed us to build war machines to batter down doors, purchase sophisticated weapons, surveillance equipment and intelligence apparatus. We arrested and imprisoned thousands and then hundreds of thousands, and while most users were white, the majority we sent to prison were from our minority communities.
Most of us stood proudly at the show and tells hovering over tons of drugs, mountains of cash and hundreds of weapons as a compliant media snapped our pictures and hailed our progress toward winning Nixon’s war on drugs.
But, many of us came to see that we were not winning. We saw the gangs grow, fueled by drug money, the cartels better armed, death squads trained by our own military unleashed across Mexico and our border states. The bodies began to stack up, the gangs became more and more violent, the cartels outgunned us and many of our police officers, our public servants, were killed and maimed for life while the communities we were sworn to protect and serve huddled in their homes dodging bullets and watching their children die by gunfire, night after night after night. For what?
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