Speaking out, but still silenced: Anonymous cop criticizes War on Drugs
This post is the first in a new blog series by an anonymous police officer who wants to join LEAP in publicly speaking out against the “war on drugs” but is afraid to because he fears being punished by his department.
As an active duty veteran police officer, I would love to publicly join Law Enforcement Against Prohibition and freely speak out against the drug war. However, I am scared, yes scared, to join LEAP publicly. Although many active duty law enforcers are already speaking out publicly with LEAP and maintaining their careers (more on them later), I believe I would be punished by my department for my advocacy or perhaps even fired.
Despite my current silence, I believe a paradigm shift regarding the drug war is quietly occurring in every law enforcement agency in this country, thanks in large part to the efforts of LEAP. This paradigm shift is palpable– I can see it, feel it, and on occasion I hear it slip out from fellow officers and even supervisors once in a blue moon. I firmly believe things are about to change in this country, and when they do, those within law enforcement will be jumping off this drug war rat ship like it was on fire. And the jumpers will proclaim that they knew the drug war was wrong the whole time. But alas, I am not here to judge or point fingers at those wearing badges–I wear one too. I too am riding on that drug war rat ship. Gladly, I will be jumping off that rat ship with everyone else. In the meantime, I can point no fingers, except at myself.
For those of us in law enforcement, we are quite sensitive and aware as to the consequences of publicly joining LEAP. For those not in law enforcement, a further explanation is in order. Allow me to describe why active duty cops generally do not speak out publicly regarding the harm from drug prohibition, even when they know it is wrong. Let us begin with the viewpoint of your average person in law enforcement.
We are scared that in “rocking the boat” and speaking out:
1) We will be terminated and lose everything.
2) We will get passed over for promotion, lose the position that we currently hold, or fail to be transferred to more desirable assignments within our agency.
3) Fellow officers and supervisors will blacklist us for appearing “weak” or “soft on crime”.
These are the everyday real-life reasons why I have not gone public, and why I believe active duty members of law enforcement usually remain silent about the 800 lb. “drug war” gorilla in the room.
There are also underlying psychological and personality reasons that make cops reluctant to speak out:
5. Lack of shame of #1-#4
I will be the first to assert the primary reason for my silence, and the silence of most cops, is an economic one (the fear of losing my job). But after 40 years of an insane drug war, is economicsthe only reason cops have generally remained silent? Honestly? Give me a break. This is not just about fear of losing one’s job–this is also about the character and spirit of the person wearing the uniform. Ignorance, for many cops, listed above, is a self-imposed ignorance of “not wanting” to know.
An additional reason many cops are reluctant to speak out against the drug war is a pervasive mentality that says, “We don’t make the laws, we just enforce ‘em.”
After nearly two decades of being a cop, I am disturbed by this mentality on a daily basis. I am disturbed that my fellow officers generally disassociate themselves from enforcing bad laws. I have often wondered at what point cops would voice distaste for politicians creating even more outrageous laws. Is the general silence due to the 40-year drug war political campaign? Has this made these bad laws acceptable in society? Is it because some politicians and newscasters reading teleprompters tell us these bad laws are OK? (Of course, there are more and more leading politicians speaking out loudly against the drug war these days, a trend that is likely to continue.) Is it because our churches are generally silent on this issue? Is it because your mom lied (and my mom also lied) about the drug war? My answer: all of the above. So…when a young cadet walks in to his or her first day of the police academy, all too often the hearts and minds of these future cops are well conditioned for what is to follow.
I remember the very first day of my police academy when a veteran cop came strutting in the classroom wearing the gun and badge that we all wanted so badly. I looked around the classroom and everyone, myself included, looked up to this cop with respect and reverence. We all wanted to be this guy. With bravado and feeling, this cop strolled around the classroom and eyeballed each one of us, informing us how to think and act if we wanted to be a cop. We hung on every word. One of the bullet points drilled in to us was: “We don’t make the laws, we just enforce ‘em.” No one raised his or her hand to debate this–it was a take it or leave it statement. We took it. We wanted that badge. Trust me, this exact same mentality is alive and well in virtually every police department in the U.S.
So what does this have to do with cops, myself included, failing to speak out publicly against the drug war? Because we are trained from day one to detach ourselves from the emotional aspect of the law, to simply enforce the law. In other words, we are not supposed to have an opinion on whether a law is good or bad. We are supposed to be robot drones, albeit with some discretion, and enforce the law whether we like the law or not. It is this mentality that is pervasive among the men and women in law enforcement. It is this mentality that has grown another branch on the tree of silence regarding our failed drug laws.
After doing this job for many years, I can tell you that many officers have, at least to some degree, convinced themselves that enforcing bad laws is okay because they themselves did not make these bad laws. Therefore, why would an officer publicly speak out about bad laws for which they have no control? This is the real culture within law enforcement that is nurtured and carefully taught to every class of young men and women cadets. It is time for this mentality to stop.
“But what about freedom of speech!” you ask? (Pardon me for a moment while I laugh.) One would think that law enforcement officers would have freedom of speech. But officers have been terminated for expressing their views about the failed policy in the war on drugs. Have some law enforcement officials publicly joined LEAP and kept their careers? Yes, and thank God for these exceptions.
For example, LEAP speaker, Richard Van Wickler, has worked in law enforcement for over 20 years, the last 15 as superintendent for the Cheshire County (NH) Department of Corrections. For years, Wickler has spoken out publicly against our failed drug war, yet has maintained his career, even being named “Corrections Superintendent of the Year” in 2011 by the New Hampshire Association of Counties.
Other active duty members of LEAP have faced resistance. Jonathan Wender, then a police sergeant in Mountlake Terrace, Washington, for example, was fired for his anti-prohibition advocacy. But Wender didn’t take it sitting down; he sued, and in January 2009, the department settled, reinstating Wender and giving him back pay and full benefits.
So, things are slowly getting better and, I believe, will get better thanks to organizations like LEAP. But in general, at the time of this writing, we as public servants will in many cases lose everything by publicly speaking out against this shameful war on people.
Hopefully this starts to give you a sense of why many cops who know the drug war needs to end are reluctant to say so in public. In my next post, I’ll discuss how I came to find out about LEAP and further elaborate on the reasons I want to speak out but am reluctant to.