Imagine this. A person is robbed at an ATM. Police investigate, resulting in an arrest of the robber. Along the process the money is recovered and later forfeited. But instead of returning the money to the victim of the robbery, police agencies participating in the case split it up. The scenario just described is not that far-fetched when you consider that law enforcement agencies routinely share large sums of money seized from drug traffickers without consideration of its crime victims. How can we take in billions of dollars from drug traffickers annually, while permitting their victims to perish?
Drug dealers are parasites feeding off others without regard to the misery they inflict. Repeat customers whose appetites often result from free samples of addictive drugs deliver high profits to drug traffickers. While enticed into drug use, many addicts wish they were not enslaved and seek help to stop their destructive behavior. Here's the problem, research suggest that there are millions of chronic drug users who need but do not receive treatment. While it is debatable how many needing treatment will seek help, less open to question is the demand for treatment in many US Cities not currently being met due to limited funding. But how can this be?
As a former law enforcement executive I am ashamed to admit that the answer is probably greed. The stories I could tell you about what goes on behind the scenes relative to determining shared amounts could turn the stomach. I even read about a local Sheriff's election campaign where one candidate boasted about how much better he was at bringing in drug forfeiture money that his county routinely draws upon. Don't get me wrong, I have no problem with taking every penny of the ill gotten gains that the law allows from drug traffickers, I just think we need to be mindful of what we do with the money.
First, we need to consider that seizure monies going exclusively to law enforcement may be corrupting. Rather than doing the right thing for the right reason - namely drug enforcement - some agencies have got to the point that their efforts are motivated by asset sharing. For example, when I first started working in the field of drug enforcement, police departments seemed eager to pool their resources by assigning officers to drug task forces to help tackle the problem. Now many police departments seem more calculating in delegating officers favoring assignments spread throughout multiple task forces. In this way, departments can increase the number of revenue streams from which they can share assets regardless of impact on local problems.
Second, we should estimate what effect legislation designating a portion of forfeited drug money to drug treatment would have on ensuring that those who want help can get it. The growing demand for drug treatment because of increased pharmaceutical abuse puts financial stress on our already beleaguered health care system. Consequently, earmarking a percentage of the money seized from drug traffickers to drug treatment seems like a good investment. Beside these concerns, government must take care and "do no harm".
Among the many reasons why I have a problem with legalizing drugs is the fact we must never get to a place where we depend on revenue generated that is counterproductive to the well-being of citizens. But even with illicit drugs being illegal, if we get to a point like that Sheriff where we become dependent upon the proceeds of the drug trade to survive, it is a hard sell, even to ourselves that we really want drug abuse to end.
The one palpable place for the money to go is to fix the people that the drug dealers broke. And besides, I believe my fellow officers would love to do what I had always wished I could do - get in a dealer's face when you're stripping him of all of his dirty money and tell him that it is going to be used to help build up the lives which they worked so hard to destroy.
If our federal court system can consider restitution to victims of spam, then we certainly shouldn't have any problem with this one - especially when there is a mechanism whereby we can ensure that the money is funneled through existing programs for drug treatment. The ONDCP touts the Access to Recovery Program which bolsters treatment and recovery services. If we really want addicts to be treated, we must be poised to help them at the precise moment they seek it. How can we look them in the face and say there is no money with all that is being raked in from drug dealers? It is time to induce lawmakers into seeing that focusing on drug demand - demands money.