Syracuse, N.Y., is courageously asking tough questions about drug law enforcement, says columnist Neal Peirce for the Washington Post Writers Group. An audit by City Auditor Minchin Lewis, inspired by Syracuse drug reformer Nicolas Eyle, found that 22 percent of the Syracuse police department’s 28,800 arrests in a single year were for drug-related incidents, more than arrests for assaults, disturbances and larcenies combined. Close to 2,000 persons were charged with possession or sale of marijuana. Drug arrests were focused in six poor, heavily black inner-city neighborhoods. Police raids in search of evidence were rendering housing units, many government-owned, uninhabitable, and forcing many families to split up because of government rules evicting drug users from public housing. Lewis concluded that despite the enforcement, “The drug activity is continuing with an ever-increasing spiral of violence.”
Jack Cole of a group called Law Enforcement Against Prohibition who served 12 years as an undercover agent for the New Jersey State Police, said, “There is such an obscene profit motive that an army of police officers will never arrest our way out of it.” He added, “Every arrest is a job opening.” Eyle, head of Syracuse-based ReconsiDer, meets with the city council this month to discuss such steps as a resolution asking federal and state governments to change drug policies that stimulate black-market activity, crime, and violence. Instructions to divert Syracuse’s police to more important tasks, perhaps lowering the priority of marijuana arrests in the city, will be considered.