"A Police View on the War on Drugs" appeared in the New Republic, the National Review, the Weekly Standard and The Nation in 1999. Statement of Chief Hubert Williams, President, Police Foundation, March 25, 1999
Statement of Chief Hubert Williams,
President, Police Foundation, March 25, 1999

   A fundamental police role is to enforce and uphold the rule of the law, and to do so equitably without regard to race, ethnicity, or social or economic status. Sadly, for much of the Nation's history, the legal order has not only countenanced but sustained slavery, segregation, and discrimination. And the fact that the police were bound to uphold that order, set a pattern for police behavior and attitudes toward minority communities that has persisted until the present day.

   In no arena is this continued discrimination more apparent than in America's "war on drugs." Police chiefs have enough problems dealing with misconduct and abuse of authority by some officers without the added burden of having to enforce laws that are themselves mechanisms for discrimination, in the tradition of the Jim Crow era in American history. Obligating the police to enforce unjust laws, most often in inner-city and minority communities, perpetuated the legacy of fear and mistrust, and further erodes relations between the police and the community.

   Not only is current drug policy targeting minority citizens in numbers disproportionate to their numbers in the general population and the drug-using population, but these policies are driving differential enforcement practices in many communities. Police are making more arrests than ever for non-violent drug offenses. Although they constitute only 13 percent of the drug-using population, African Americans are arrested at a rate five times greater than white Americans. Simply put, drug arrests are easier to make in inner-city neighborhoods where drug markets operate more openly than in middle- class areas. Police enforcement strategies that target inner-city neighborhoods as the primary method for addressing the drug problem will produce attractive statistics from a quantitative perspective, but qualitatively the results will be skewed towards small-time users and dealers. The big fish who finance and supply the drug markets will go unscathed, but the prisons will be filled with the poor and underprivileged members who live in these neighborhoods.

  A recent Police Foundation survey found that over 95 percent of rank-and-file police officers believe that the most effective way to control crime is by working with citizens and communities. What has come to be known as "community-oriented policing" is predicated upon community trust in and support of police in order to form and maintain police-community partnerships to combat crime and improve the quality of life in neighborhoods. Discriminatory laws that force discriminatory enforcement seriously undermine the ability of police to engage minority communities as partners in the "war against crime." Without this community involvement and support, vital information essential for crime control does not flow to the police, and both the community and law enforcement suffer as a consequence.

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