I have been in and around the law enforcement field for 42 years. People find it strange that I support the legalization of drugs. As someone who has been on the front lines of the war on drugs I know it will never work. I also know that police are among the principle victims in the war on drugs.
The six plaques added last year to the New York City memorial of those killed in the line of duty were all commemorations of officers killed in drug enforcement situations. The Drug Enforcement Administration federal agent whose death brought President George Bush to console the bereaved family; the DEA agent tortured and murdered in Mexico; the Customs agent presumed dead when his helicopter crashed in the Bahamas last month while chasing a smuggler's boat; the federal agent and 6 contract pilots whose plane crashed into a Peruvian mountain with sabotage suspected, all represent federal officers who have literally given their lives for the drug war. Each year dozens more, serving at all levels of government, are seriously wounded.
To these casualties must be added the many undercover officers, who suffered psychological stress and injury from their assignments, and those who, engulfed by the milieu in which they were placed, succumbed to personal drug abuse. It has taken litigation to compel the government to agree that line-of-duty disability compensations are merited by the hazards of undercover drug assignments. Progressive police administrators have learned that personnel have to be rotated out of such assignments frequently because of the high risks involved.
Such casualties have become so commonplace that they are now found in the last paragraphs of news stories, if they are even mentioned. These are some of the reasons I favor ending the war on drugs.
Another reason that I am involved in such efforts is that I am an angry man. The maturity of years has not deprived me of an excellent memory, and in the present war on drugs I am experiencing a tremendous sense of deja vu. I have been here before. The same war was being fought in the 1960s when the principal substance of abuse was heroin, a miniscule problem when compared to today. I was a Supervisor of Detectives in the New York City Police Department. Then the problem was the old French Connection, the Turkish poppy crop refined in laboratories around Marseille and pipelined into New York City for distribution by the mafia. We were told by our political leadership that if the Turkish poppy crop was destroyed, the purification mills destroyed and the major American mafiosi importers caught and convicted, there would be an end to the problem. While all of these things happened, the problem did not end.
The Turkish poppy crop was reduced and then virtually eliminated with American money used to eradicate the poppies and convert the farmers' efforts to other products. It quickly became apparent that poppies could be grown in other parts of the world. Within two years the Mexican share of the heroin supply jumped from 38 percent to 77 percent. Then the market spread to Southeast Asia and Afghanistan. Today the poppy crop is untouchable.
The French police destroyed the heroin mills, and we learned what a heroin mill really is. It is a chemist, brought together with $5,000 worth of equipment and a couple thousand dollars worth of chemicals. This combination can be put together anywhere in the world.
I worked hard with my colleagues to arrest and convict the American mafiosi and participated in the federal investigations of Vito Genovese, Carmine Galante and others who were sent to prison for very long prison terms. They were readily replaced by relatives, friends, and associates and nothing changed. Today La Cosa Nostra groups have a very limited role on the drug scene. New organized crime groups, the Jamaicans, Colombians, Los Angeles gangs and others have taken their places. The names of the players have changed but the game is exactly the same.
What angers me is that today, police officers and all other Americans are being told by our political leaders that if the coca crop in Peru and Bolivia can be curtailed it will all be over, ignoring the botanical fact that coca can be grown in many parts of the world. We are told that if the chemicals can be cut off from the purification plants in Colombia it will all be over. The chemicals are derivatives of the oil industry and there are wells in many parts of the world. We are told that if we can incarcerate the Medellin and Cali cartels it will all be over, and that is another lie. The Latin-American narcotraficantes will be replaced by others as easily as were the American mafiosi.
So I am angry because the people I have spent my entire life with, the law enforcement community, are being lied to, just as I was lied to 20 years ago.
Perhaps the greatest pain we suffer is the growing problem of corruption among my colleagues. This also is not a new problem. After the famous French Connection heroin bust we discovered that the heroin was stolen from the New York City police property clerk's office. The investigations of the Knapp Commission proved the corruption of the elite narcotics enforcement unit whose members had become "princes of the city." Today dozens of sheriffs have been convicted of drug corruption, local police officers, federal agents, prosecutors and even judges have been convicted of drug charges. Even the once incorruptible FBI has had its casualties. Enough!
Ralph F. Salerno, "I am an Angry Man: My People, the Police are beingLied To," The Drug Policy LeUer, November/December 1989, p. 11.