“We are not winning” said Sheriff Tony Thompson referring to the Black Hawk County’s War on Drugs. “If you don’t like the law, change it at the federal level”, said Waterloo Public Safety Director, Dan Trelka in defense of drug policy enforcement. Sheriff Thompson and Director Trelka are the defacto drug czars of Black Hawk County and recently offered a peek into the shadow, TriCounty Drug Task Force.
The presentation went as expected from career law enforcement officials, the major local beneficiaries of the drug war in dollar terms. Thompson and Trelka alleged the Task Force reduces crime and funds noble expenses like websites and swat gear (special weapons and tactics gear). Hair-raising anecdotes were used such as asking David Wieland if he wanted burglars in his garage? Or if Frank Darrah wanted his family to be killed? These are classic rhetorical devices that have been used to justify many wars.
Cedar Falls has a major stake in the game. We contribute officers, intelligence and resources to the Task Force. We get a cut, approximately 19%, of seized assets every year, the balance of which is now above $1 million dollars. But according to the czars, we don’t police for profit, we follow the letter of the law. Legal doesn’t make right. Thankfully, civil asset forfeiture, or ‘state-sanctioned theft’, is on its last leg. The Department of Justice, Congress and the Courts (every branch of federal government) are independently acting on the injustice.
Perhaps the most interesting soapboxing of the night came from Director Trelka, but only after Sheriff Thompson said we were not going to talk about drug policy. Trelka derided Colorado’s marijuana legalization as bad policy citing such statistics as increased property values, rising government tax revenue, and resident attraction. He forgot to mention crime is down, drug use among youths has decreased, and people actually appreciate their new freedoms - medical and recreational. In Black Hawk County, we spend in excess of $1MM on the Task Force, our jail population is overflowing into other counties, the drug arrest rate of blacks is 5.4x that of whites, we make over 500 arrests per year permanently branding citizens with ‘drug offender’ diminishing academic, social and economic prospects. Remind me again why legalization is bad?
Many politicians and bureaucrats have an uncanny way of leading us into social battles. Their war on choice is a war on market forces. And if prohibition was any indication, this war cannot be won - not by a Constitutional amendment, certainly not by a Task Force. As long as demand exists, as long as politicians force trade into the black market, enterprising people (normally the socio-economically disadvantaged) will seek to satiate the demand in the name of profit despite the criminal connotation. We would be better to treat end-user addiction as a health condition rather than a criminal concern.
As local policy makers, it is our duty to evaluate federal and state policy effectiveness, to ask basic questions like: what are the real costs? What are the benefits? And when a policy is ineffective, unfeasible, violates basic civil liberties or is not proportional in its effects, we must become advocates of change.
The Task Force represents the local enforcement arm of the drug war, the militarization of our police. It is the antithesis of community policing. Society is quickly recognizing we can’t battle social issues with armored vehicles and no-knock raids. What can we do on the local level? We can apply intellectually honest inquiry and analyze the true cost/benefit of federal policies as they trickle down to our communities. We can adopt true community policing versus broken window philosophies of the past. We can de-prioritize enforcement of petty drug offenses. We can return weapons of war. We can appoint a non-law enforcement citizen to the Task Force board to provide oversight of the operations, expenditures, forfeitures, and performance measures. We can focus enforcement efforts on true crimes - crimes against people and property. Using a drug is not a crime - it is a personal choice. Selling a drug is not a crime - it is a free market service. In a moral test, a person only commits a crime when their actions cause harm to another person or a person’s property.
For six years, I have been asking for basic nuggets of information from the TriCounty Drug Task Force – budget, arrest stats, forfeiture data, no-knock raid counts, prosecution success. For six years, I have been stonewalled, denied, minimized, and demoralized. I truly appreciate the presentation and (limited) information disclosure from the TriCounty Drug Task Force. While I don’t agree with the enforcement mechanism, I appreciate our officers’ commitment to serving the citizens of the Cedar Valley. Task Forces by definition are temporary. The TriCounty Task Force is nearing its 25 year anniversary, perhaps it’s time to re-evaluate this domestic war.