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Mexico Drug War Update

by Bernd Debusmann Jr.

Mexican drug trafficking organizations make billions each year smuggling drugs into the United States, profiting enormously from the prohibitionist drug policies of the US government. Since Mexican president Felipe Calderon took office in December 2006 and called the armed forces into the fight against the so-called cartels, prohibition-related violence has killed around 40,000 people, including more than 15,000 last year. The increasing militarization of the drug war and the arrest or killing of dozens of high-profile drug traffickers have failed to stem the flow of drugs -- or the violence -- whatsoever. The Merida initiative, which provides $1.4 billion over three years for the US to assist the Mexican government with training, equipment and intelligence, has so far failed to make a difference. Here are a few of the latest developments in Mexico's drug war:

Thursday, September 15

In Philadelphia, authorities announced the dismantling of a drug trafficking network with ties to the Sinaloa Cartel. In total, five people were arrested, three of them in Pennsylvania and two in Texas. Ten kilos of cocaine, cash and weapons were also confiscated.

In Matamoros, fire fights and blockades were reported in several parts of the city, effectively shutting the city down. Residents posted pictures of hijacked buses parked across streets and city officials confirmed that incidents occurred on the highway to Reynosa. It is unclear whether any fatalities occurred during the incidents.

Wednesday, September 16

In Ciudad Victoria, Tamaulipas, a car bomb exploded during Mexican Independence Day celebrations. No injuries were reported.

In Querandaro, Michoacan, Independence Day celebrations were canceled after a group of 40 heavily armed gunmen arrived in the town’s main square and ordered the crowd to disperse or be attacked, causing people to flee in panic or hide inside government buildings. No injuries were reported.

Saturday, September 17

In Huamuxtitlan, Guerrero, the body of a missing federal congressman and his driver were found in a river. PRI congressman Moises Villanueva had been missing since September 4th, when the two men disappeared after leaving a party held by a fellow party member. Mexican media reported that both men had been shot and appear to have been dead for some time.

In the Monterrey suburb of Santa Catarina, authorities announced that 44 police officers have been taken into custody on suspicion of working as lookouts for and protecting the Zetas. At least 69 others are still under investigation.

Sunday, September 18

In Mexico City, a high-ranking Sinaloa Cartel leader was arrested. Jose Carlos Moreno Flores is thought to have been the head of the Sinaloa Cartel in Chilapancingo, Guerrero, and is known to have had ties to drug traffickers in Guatemala and Costa Rica. He is also thought to have played a key part in turf wars fought over Chilpancingo between the Sinaloa Cartel and rival groups.

Monday, September 19

In Veracruz, 32 prison inmates escaped from three facilities in simultaneous jail breaks. 14 of the inmates have already been recaptured and the Mexican military has deployed to search for the remaining 18. All 17 prisons in Veracruz are being checked to ascertain whether any other prisoners are missing.

Tuesday, September 20

In Michoacan, the army captured a high-ranking member of the Knights Templar Organization. Saul Solis Solis, 49, is a former police chief and at one time was a congressional candidate for the Green Party, finishing fourth in the 2009 congressional race for his home district. He is also suspected of being heavily involved in narcotics cultivation and meth production, as well as in multiple attacks on federal forces, including a May 2007 attack that killed an officer and four soldiers.

In Veracruz, the bodies of 35 people were dumped on a busy street near a shopping center by a group of heavily armed gunmen who pointed weapons at passing motorists. According to Mexican media sources, most of the gunmen were identified as having criminal records and links to organized crime groups. A banner left with the bodies claimed that the dead were Zetas. Some of the victims had their heads covered with black plastic bags and appeared to have been tortured. One of the bodies has been identified as a police officer who went missing two weeks ago.

In Ciudad Juarez, at least eight people were murdered in several incidents across the city. In one incident, three teenagers were walking along a street when they were intercepted by a group of gunmen, who killed two and severely wounded the third. In another incident, a 32-year old mother of 8 was shot dead outside her home.

[Editor's Note: We can no longer accurately enumerate the number of deaths in the Mexican drug wars this year. The Mexico City newspaper El Universal had been running a tally on which we relied, but it stopped. Our estimate for this year's death toll is just that -- an estimate.]

Total Body Count for 2007 (approx.): 4,300

Total Body Count for 2008 (approx.): 5,400

Total Body Count for 2009 (approx.): 9,600

Total Body Count for 2010 (official): 15,273

Total Body Count for 2011: (approx.): 7,200

Mexico

Mexico

You Don't Need Drug Laws to Punish People Who Steal

The idea that our drug policy should prioritize public health over law enforcement is such common sense that even the drug czar is comfortable saying it. Yet Warren County, OH prosecutor Rachel Hutzel has bravely attempted to refute this emerging conventional wisdom in a perfectly incoherent editorial entitled Many drug offenders need punishment, not just treatment:

Many thefts are committed to get drug money. The majority of traffic-related deaths are drug or alcohol-related. And personal crimes such as child endangering and domestic violence are usually fueled by drugs or alcohol.

Many drug crimes should continue to be dealt with harshly. The people who are harmed by the selfish, destructive acts of drug users and drug dealers deserve nothing less.


Wait, I didn't hear anyone say anything about not punishing thieves, drunk drivers, and child endangerers. I'm pretty sure everyone's in agreement about that. If someone steals, can't you prosecute them for stealing? Am I missing something?

The abundance of crimes with actual victims is all the more reason to stop wasting criminal justice resources on people whose only crime was taking a drug that isn't allowed.

Drug War Chronicle Book Review: "Cop in the Hood: My Year Policing Baltimore's Eastern District," by Peter Moskos (2008, Princeton University Press, 245 pp., $24.95 HB)

Immortalized by the hit HBO series "The Wire," Baltimore's Eastern District is one tough neighborhood in one of the country's toughest towns. With some 45,000 residents, almost entirely black, it generates 20,000 arrests a year, the vast majority of them drug-related. It's a tough, gritty neighborhood with widespread poverty, open-air drug markets, a healthy heroin (or "hair-on" in Eastern District-speak) habit, and all the attendant problems associated with those ills.

http://www.stopthedrugwar.org/files/copinthehood.gif
For a bit more than a year, the Eastern District was Peter Moskos' beat. The Harvard educated sociologist (now on the faculty of City University of New York's John Jay College of Criminal Justice) with an interest in police socialization joined the Baltimore Police Department to become a "participant-observer" on the sociology of policing in that department, enabling him to achieve a degree of intimacy with his fellow officers rarely achieved by outside academics.

For Moskos, and for his readers, his sojourn on the mean streets has paid off handsomely. Moskos got a book deal (and presumably a dissertation) out of his experiences, and we readers get a real treat. The uniformed Moskos -- he served exclusively as a beat officer -- was able to win the trust and fellowship of his colleagues, and in so doing, he was able to open a window on what it is like to be a police officer in the drug war.

I would imagine that most Drug War Chronicle readers -- LEAP members excluded -- have little knowledge of or empathy for the men in blue. The cops, after all, are the front line in the drug war. And, as Moskos reports, drawing on extensive notes, the drug dealers and users of the Eastern District are relatively easy pickings for police officers looking to generate arrest statistics.

"In high drug areas, there is no shortage of drug offenders to arrest," he writes. "The decision to arrest or not arrest becomes more a matter of personal choice and police officer discretion than of any formalized police response toward crime or public safety."

Not only do police routinely arrest suspect Eastern District residents -- for loitering, if nothing else -- they almost universal despise them and their drug habits. Moskos really shines at getting his comrades to speak openly and honestly about their attitudes, and in that sense, "Cop in the Hood" is as revelatory as it is sometimes disturbing. Such attitudes may be deplorable, but they are also understandable. When all you see is the worst of humanity, it's easy to get alienated. As one officer put it, "You don't get 911 calls to tell you how well things are going."

But not all beat officers are eager to arrest drug offenders. As Moskos details, the cops get frustrated by the revolving-door that sees drug offenders sent to county jail on arrest only to be spit out a few hours later or to have drug dealing charges reduced to simple possession because prisons are packed and prosecutors overworked. (Moskos observes that the drug war would grind to a halt if drug offenders uniformly demanded jury trials. Now, there's a reason to unionize drug users!)

Police officers don't want to be social workers, Moskos reports, and they are not interested in the root causes of drug use and attendant social ills. What they are interested in is doing their job with a minimum of hassle (from the streets or their superiors), returning home safely each night, and retiring with a nice pension. That means that for many officers, high drug arrest numbers early in their careers will drop off over time as they confront a combination of a sense of futility, overtime, and paperwork. As one officer put it:

You'll get out there thinking you can make a difference. Then you get frustrated: a dealer caught with less than 25 pieces will be considered personal use... Or you go to court and they take his word over yours. You're a cop and you're saying you saw something!... After it happens to you, you don't care. It's your job to bring him there [to court]. What happens after that is their problem. You can't take this job personal. Drugs were here before you were, and they'll be here long after you're gone. Don't think you can change that. I don't want you leaving here thinking everybody living in this neighborhood is bad, does drugs. Many cops start beating people, thinking they deserve it.

While Moskos by no means sugarcoats the behavior or attitudes of his coworkers, his reporting will undoubtedly help readers attain some understanding of how they got that way. "Cops in the Hood" is also useful for understanding the bureaucratic grinder facing police officers in large urban departments, where they are caught between pressures from above for more arrests, from Internal Affairs to do it by the book, from the neighborhoods to clean out the riff-raff and from the same neighborhoods to respect the civil rights of residents.

Moskos brings the added advantage of not writing like an academic. "Cops in the Hood" is engaging, even riveting, and makes its points straightforwardly. Yes, Moskos references policing theory, but he does so in ways that make it provocative instead of off-putting.

He also includes a well-researched and -written chapter on the evils of prohibition -- it's subtitled "Al Capone's Revenge" -- but in this case, it's hardly necessary. Like a good student listening to his English composition instructor, Moskos has shown us and he really doesn't need to tell us. Still, it is a strong chapter.

Moskos writes about his experience as a beat officer. That's a different animal from the largely self-selected group of police cowboys who end up in drug squads and SWAT teams. I have less sympathy for them, but that's another book, not this one.

People interested in the nitty-gritty of street-level drug law enforcement need to read this book. Criminal justice students and anyone thinking about becoming a police officer need to read this book, too. And the politicians who pass the laws police have to enforce (or not), need to read this book as well, although they probably won't.

Just Because Criminals Use Drugs Doesn't Mean Drugs Cause Crime

ONDCP's latest blog post boldly proclaims that drugs cause crime because most people who get arrested test positive for drugs. As is their habit, ONDCP's post was created by taking a newspaper article, misunderstanding it, and then drawing exaggerated conclusions that are factually wrong:

The Drug-Crime Link: Most Adults Committing Crimes in San Diego High at Time of Arrest

A new report out of San Diego County illustrates the strong connection between using drugs and committing crime. The North County Times reports:

"While the number of adults that test positive for drugs when arrested dropped slightly in 2006 compared with the year before, narcotics use continues to show up in more than 70 percent of arrestees, according to a report released Tuesday by the San Diego Association of Governments...

The headline alone contains two wildly inaccurate claims. For starters, being arrested doesn't mean you've actually committed a crime. Duh. This may seem insignificant, since drug use rates are probably the same or higher among those convicted. Still, it's a reflection of ONDCP's mindset that arrestees are simply presumed guilty.

More to the point, testing positive for drugs absolutely doesn’t mean you're high. Cocaine, heroin, and methamphetamine remain detectable in your system for up to 4 days, while PCP and marijuana can linger for up to a month. We can identify these drugs in someone's body, but we cannot prove when the drugs were ingested or whether they were intoxicated at the time of arrest.

ONDCP's whole premise that drug use makes people go crazy and break the law is just not supported at all by this data. Addicted users frequently commit crimes precisely because they're no longer high, but they'd like to be. This link can be better addressed through maintenance programs and by eliminating the black market that inflates prices and forces addicts to steal.

Marijuana users, on the other hand, are unlikely to ever pass a drug test if they use more than twice a month. How many of these arrestees are just marijuana users who smoked days or weeks before an unrelated arrest? It's the most widely used and most detectable illicit drug, so its inclusion skews the entire picture.

Finally, and perhaps most importantly, there's a huge drug war going on, which causes drug users to be arrested at alarming rates. It's the number one thing people get arrested for. If we stopped arresting people for having drugs, the percentage of arrestees who test positive for them would decrease substantially. Literally, the government is arresting people for drugs, then claiming that you shouldn’t do drugs because they'll cause you to get yourself arrested.

Don't get me wrong, there is a drug-crime link, but it's not the one you read about at PushingBack.com. It's a product of the great war we've declared on one another, and it will go away only when we admit our terrible mistake.

Location: 
United States

'It's time we kicked the £1bn drugs habit'

Location: 
United Kingdom
Publication/Source: 
Cambridge Evening News (UK)
URL: 
http://www.cambridge-news.co.uk/news/region_wide/2007/07/27/8096fc08-32bc-4394-a74e-0615ff710035.lpf

Europe: Scottish Police Chief Says Time to Consider Prescribing Hard Drugs

A leading Scottish police official has inserted himself into the ongoing debate over drug policy in Scotland by saying that law enforcement alone is not working and that drug courts and even the prescribing of Class A drugs to users should be considered. John Vine, Chief Constable of Tayside Police made the remarks in a Monday interview with BBC Scotland.

http://stopthedrugwar.org/files/johnvine.jpg
John Vine
"I don't think we are winning the war against drugs just by enforcement alone," Vine said. "We need to continue that effort and reassure communities that we are going to be there for them but we also need to talk to politicians and health authorities to see whether we can do something differently to reduce the demand for Class A drugs," he said.

"I would like to see, for example, drugs courts being set up in the area and would also like to see possibly some debate about whether prescribing Class A drugs might be something the health authorities might consider."

Ecstasy, LSD, heroin, cocaine, crack cocaine, magic mushrooms, and injectable amphetamines are all considered Class A (most serious) drugs under the United Kingdom's drug classification scheme. But it is likely Vine is talking about heroin, and possibly cocaine and amphetamines, the illicit drugs that are associated with the greatest social problems in Scotland.

Heroin seizures had tripled in Tayside in recent years, Vine said. While his police force can continue to produce good arrest figures, he added, it is time for a dialogue between law enforcement, health authorities, and politicians to come up with a long-term solution. That may not be a popular notion, he said, but he would be willing to experiment in Tayside.

"There are people who will have a view as to whether this would be socially acceptable or whether this would have any chance of working," Vine told BBC Scotland. "I would like this force and this police area to be a pilot area for any initiative which might be regarded as innovative or risky which could be evaluated by experts to see whether we can reduce demand for acquisitive crime."

Perhaps the Scottish new prime minister of Britain will lend Chief Vine an ear.

Addicts swap stolen copper for drugs in Dominican barrios

Location: 
Santo Domingo
Dominican Republic
Publication/Source: 
Dominican Today (Dominican Republic)
URL: 
http://www.dominicantoday.com/app/article.aspx?id=23490

Europe: British Top Cop Calls for Prescription Heroin for Addicts

The head of the British Association of Chief Police Officers (ACPO) called this week for addicts to be prescribed heroin to prevent them from committing crimes to feed their habits. ACPO head Ken Jones, the former chief constable of Sussex, also admitted that current law enforcement strategies are failing when it comes to a "hardcore minority" of heroin users.

http://stopthedrugwar.org/files/kenjones.jpg
Ken Jones
"You need to understand there is a hard core, a minority, who nevertheless commit masses of crime to feed their addiction," Jones said in remarks reported by The Independent. "We have got to be realistic -- I have looked into the whites of these people's eyes and many have no interest whatsoever in coming off drugs. We have to find a way of dealing with them, and licensed prescription is definitely something we should be thinking about."

Jones is one of the most senior police officials ever to advocate the use of prescription heroin in the effort to reduce the harm from black market use of the drug. According to research in Great Britain, heroin users commit an average of 432 crimes a year.

Studies in Switzerland and the Netherlands, where prescription heroin programs are underway, have found reductions in crimes committed by participants. While Britain has some 40,000 registered heroin addicts using methadone (and an estimated 327,000 "problem drug users" of cocaine or heroin), only a few hundred are currently receiving prescribed heroin as part of a pilot program. That's not enough, said Jones.

"I am not in any shape or form a legalizer, but what I am concerned with is that we have to shape up to some tough realities," he said. "We don't have enough treatment places for those who want to go on them. What we need is a cross-party consensus which considers the overwhelming public view to be tough on the roots of drugs, as well as treating its victims," he argued.

"I was a drugs officer and we have to be realistic," Jones continued. "There is a hardcore minority who are not in any way shape or form anxious to come off drugs. They think 'I am going to go out there and steal, rob, burgle and get the money to buy it'. What are we going to do -- say 'OK we are going to try and contain this by normal criminal justice methods' and fail, or are we going to look at doing something different? Start being a bit more innovative. It is about looking at things in a different way without turning away completely from the current position."

While up until the 1960s, British doctors regularly prescribed heroin to addicts, that practice ended under US pressure and because of scandals related to loose prescribing. It is time to go back to the good old days, Jones said. "There are junkies who are alive today who would have been dead now," he said. "Their lives are stable, yes, their addiction is being maintained, but far better they are being maintained than them trying to get their fix off the street from crime. Heroin is an incredible stimulator of crime and I think we are foolish if we don't acknowledge that."

Meth battle sees new fronts

Location: 
WA
United States
Publication/Source: 
The News Tribune (WA)
URL: 
http://www.thenewstribune.com/news/crime/story/6375741p-5687279c.html

Europe: Give Addicts Prescription Heroin, Says British Police Commander

Heroin addicts should be prescribed the drug through the National Health Service (NHS) to reduce crime, a senior British police officer told a conference of the Association of Chief Police Officers (ACPO) this week. The forthright advice came from Nottinghamshire Police Deputy Chief Constable Howard Roberts, who is vice-chairman of the ACPO drugs committee.

The remarks came as ACPO considers whether to seek changes in British drug policy and amidst news reports that some 150 heroin addicts are already receiving prescription diamorphine (heroin) from NHS. Roberts made clear he was expressing his personal opinion, not speaking for ACPO.

"We should actively consider prescribing diamorphine, pharmaceutical heroin, to those seriously addicted to heroin as part of a treatment program for addiction," he said in comments reported by ITV News. "My motives for making such a statement are frankly this: there is an undeniable link between addicted offenders and appalling levels of criminality, as heroin and crack cocaine addicts commit crime from burglary to robbery, to sometimes murder, to get the money to buy drugs to satisfy their addiction. The resulting misery to society is huge."

According to the Home Office, heroin addicts commit 432 crimes a year, Roberts noted. "Therefore the logic is clear, I suggest, that we take highly addicted offenders out of committing crime to feed their addiction, into closely supervised treatment programs that, as part of the program, can prescribe diamorphine," said Roberts.

Roberts' comments won the immediate support of the think tank DrugScope, whose chief executive, Martin Barnes, said: "We support calls for the extension of heroin prescribing, which for some problem drug users can be an extremely effective form of drug treatment. It can have immediate health benefits for the drug user and can for some be the best route to becoming drug-free. There is compelling evidence that heroin prescribing, although more expensive than some forms of drug treatment, is cost-effective in reducing drug-related crime and other costs to communities."

But there is no word yet on whether the British government or the ACPO will be as enthusiastic.

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