When the United States decided to declare “war” on drugs like crack, cocaine, heroin, and marijuana, the NYPD followed suit with the creation of narcotics units. These units would be comprised of police officers and detectives whose sole purpose was to arrest people who were involved in trafficking these drugs. These units were tasked with investigating drug activity and arresting the culprits. These units still exist today and they are as big as ever. What always struck me when I dealt with these cases was how “smalltime” the people they caught tended to be. At first, I thought it was just bad luck on their part. Then, I thought it was because the “real” traffickers were just smarter than the guys that ended up getting caught. However, I finally realized that the reason the people who the NYPD caught were so “smalltime” was because these narcotics units are designed to only catch these kinds of “criminals.”
The reason the “war on drugs” has failed so miserably is because it has done nothing to eliminate the demand for illegal drugs. This demand comes from not only the seedier elements of our society, but it also comes from people who go to work everyday and are otherwise successful citizens. The government can make whatever it wants illegal, however, people are still going to do it unless they are sufficiently deterred. The problem is that because people want something that is not legal, they have to get it from the black market. Because the black market is still a market, the Darwinian forces of capitalism are just as applicable. This means that the people who are good at it survive and profit, while the people who are bad it fail. They either get killed or are arrested. It stands to reason that if a police entity was serious about combatting this “war,” it would try to go after the more successful traffickers. However, the NYPD is more concerned with making arrests and easy headlines than it is in actually lowering drug trafficking.
An example of this comes in the form of a “buy and bust” operation. These operations sound like exactly what they are. Undercover police officers go to a “drug-prone” location and they proactively try to buy drugs on the street. Once the drugs are purchased, other narcotics officers in the area then immediately arrest the seller. While this may sound effective, it could not possibly be more pointless.
For this system to work, the under cover officers need to know which people in a particular area to approach. It’s not like drug dealers have signs up that say “Heroin For Sale! Buy 1 get 1 Free!” If they approach the wrong people, not only are they wasting their time, but people will know that they are up to something suspicious. So how do these officers know whom to approach? They go to the most destitute, homeless, drug-addicted person they can find based on his looks. They then engage that person in a conversation in which the person ultimately agrees to “sell” the drugs to the under cover. The reason sell is in quotes is because what actually happens is the under cover gives this person money and this person then disappears. He then comes back a short while later and then he gives the under cover half of the drugs the under cover initially agrees to buy. He then keeps the other half for himself. The team then moves in and arrests the guy. They then tell the DA that he has “matching stash” which will then corroborate that he’s a drug dealer. In reality, the “dealer” took the under cover’s money and he bought the drugs from the real dealer who isn’t in area and isn’t stupid enough to deal drugs to people he doesn’t know. Do the police then go out and try to find the guy who actually is selling drugs on the street? Why bother? After all, they already got their guy. Not only does he have “matching stash,” but if you look at his record, he has been arrested tons of times for doing the same thing in the past. If this isn’t misguided, I don’t know what is.