Friday, July 13, 2012

Why does fighting crime in East Austin always mean ramping up the drug war?

How is it that Austin police continue to arrest hundreds of people on petty drug charges in the neighborhoods surrounding the 12th and Chicon corner, but neighborhood groups still complain about underpolicing? Maybe that's the surest sign that past git-tuff efforts like the city's now-defunct "weed and seed" program were misguided and focused on the wrong priorities.

Following up on Jordan Smith's coverage of East Austin policing and prosecution tactics (and Grits' reaction), the Austin Statesman published a related story ("Neighbors, police look for right approach to clean up East Austin neighborhood," July 13) that included this chart (see below the jump) which graphically depicts Austin PD's drug-war myopia when it comes to policing this area (a jurisdiction, btw, which includes Grits' own neighborhood.) Astonishingly, 91% of arrests among the categories listed were for drug and narcotics violations, though most of the public attention has been paid to a handful of episodes of violent crime. If APD is operating under the (common) theory that arresting people for drug crimes preempts other types of offenses, it's not necessarily an effective approach in the 78702 zip code.

There's strong reason to believe most Central East Austin drug busts aren't nabbing "big fish." Though the geographic overlap is not precise, Austin's Krimelabb database recorded that Austin PD made 297 arrests for marijuana possession in 2011 in the 78702 zip code; with another 399 arrests in 2011 for harder drugs - mostly possession - and another 83 delivery arrests sprinkled in. The KrimeLabb database doesn't break out how many of those were less-than-a-gram state jail felony cases, where in many cases probation is mandated by state law on the first offense. Similarly, what proportion of those arrests occurred  at so-called open-air markets, these data do not reveal. But intensified policing in Central East Austin, both historically and almost certainly in the current context, has meant ramping up the drug war through arrests of large numbers of young black men. This is not at all a left-right issue. After all, both the current Travis County DA and her long-time mentor and predecessor, Ronnie Earle, are dyed-in-the wool Democrats and considered the most liberal elected prosecutors in the state. And the Austin City Council members whose priorities guide APD are for the most part yellow-dog Democrats.This particular mumpsimus enjoys a strong, almost unfailing bipartisan consensus (which of course makes the approach and its myriad proponents no less misguided).

Consensus among law enforcement and the political class aside, Grits remains unconvinced such a myopic focus on prosecuting the drug war gets to the heart of crime problems people really care about most. It was remarkable to me that 98% of wiretaps in Texas were used in narcotics cases. The drug war has swallowed up modern American policing, courts, jails, probation rolls, and (to a lesser extent than those other categories) prisons. By contrast, according to KrimeLabb data, Austin police made just five arrests in response to 200 burglary of a residence reports in the 78702 zip code in 2011, and another 5 arrests out of 109 burglaries of non-residences. Due to limited staffing resources for non-uniformed slots, APD's crime scene unit only shows up at less than 40% of reported burglary sites. So it's easy to see from these data which types of offenses Austin PD prioritizes, and the problem is decidedly NOT that there are too few drug arrests made in Central East Austin.

14 comments:

Anonymous said...

The drug war obviously must continue, otherwise a lot of government operations will be reduced or eliminated. It's a business on the enforcement end as much as it is a business on the cartel end. Rehabilitation programs aren't quite as sexy as the Miami Heat program makes it out to be. But, if you put a Hezbollah spin to it like DPS does then that adds a terror aspect to justify broader funding. Everything comes back to the "drug war".

Anonymous said...

Could it be that the drugs are what is feeding the crime?

Gritsforbreakfast said...

If so, 7:54, then why haven't hundreds of drug arrests reduced the other problems?

Anonymous said...

In my experience the police NEVER go after the big fish--it's too hard and too risky. Much easier to make your numbers look good by busting some kid with a joint. When they do accidentally snag a big fish, like a blind hog finding acorns, they seem to prefer to label them an "informants" and allow them to continue selling so they can help the cops keep re-cycling the same small volume buyers.

Same practices, same results, no improvement. Stupidity.

But apparently very popular politically.

Anonymous said...

Comparing drug possession crimes and burglaries can be problematic.

Drug incidents are arrest-based crimes, i.e. you don't often see an incident like possession of controlled substance if there is not an arrest. And they are reported at the time of the crime when the offender is most likely present.

Burglary of vehicle/residence instances are typically reported hours or even days after the crime has been committed. Anecdotal reports indicate the offender can complete the burglary in 5-10 minutes. For burglaries, it is better to compare arrest rates to instances of the same crime in other cities.

Phillip Baker said...

When will the leaders- and people- of this country figure out that the "War on Drugs" is an abysmal failure? As I have said before, conservatives like to mock progressives by claiming we believe that "throwing more money" at a problem will be helpful. Yet here we are, FIFTY YEARS into this faux "war" and have nothing at all to show for the hundreds of billions "thrown at" it. We do have the highest incarceration rate of the developed world, have created a permanent underbelly of society of felons who now cannot find work, housing,etc, and have seen corruption throughout the entire system. We have spent further billions dealing with the fallout of the "war".

If we decriminalize drugs, we stop the cartel violence and actually "win" the war on drugs. It sure took us less time to figure out that alcohol prohibition was not working. And I ask again, was the country awash in addicts prior to the passage of the Controlled Substances Act in the 1930's? No.There was a growing temperance movement, though. But small town America today IS awash in meth and crack heads. 6:02 is right- we now have a large, lucrative industry of anti-drug entities raking in a lot of money. A drug-prison-law enforcement complex, if you will.

Vincent van Gogh said...

Drugs are the root cause of almost all crime everybody knows that. Besides, the war on drugs employees a lot of people and we wouldn't want to make the unemployment picture any worse, would we? Still, don't you wonder way enforcing the drug laws has been such a complete failure? Could it be we are not really that interested in doing such a good job as it would mean we would be working our way out of the job itself? That’s why we are content to lock up a lot of people at the bottom of the food chain and never really go after the people at the top. How else would we fill our prisons with a lot of people who we don't want to properly fund security or medical care for.

Thomas R. Griffith said...

Hey Grits, in addition to this very well put Post and subsequent logical comments I'd like to take this opportunity to once again advocate for amending the Americans with Disabilities Act.

To include but not limited to - those convicted of felonies & misdemeanors via: courts stopping or side stepping jury trials to 'Plea Bargain' being fully protected by the ACT in order to prevent cruel and unusual punishment in numerous forms of discrimination over one’s life span. *This initial group was chosen over blanket coverage due to 90% and above criminal cases being void of DNA and disposed of by Tapping Out disqualifying them from receiving post conviction assistance and Full Pardon – for innocence considerations. Those convicted via a VERDICT having exhausted all appeals have the IPOT and numerous other mirrored projects in their corners.

*Once the taxpayers / voters get wind that in addition to paying for the immediate causes of getting tuff on the riff-raff they’ll also be responsible for the life-long negative effects where it's assumed that there will be mass anti-protest leading to the feds forcing the states to stop creating a class of sub-humans scared with a man-made permanent scarlet letter. Guilty or Not - an ‘X’ on your back for the rest of your life is equal to a LIFE SENTENCE. Thanks.

Anonymous said...

Gritsforbreakfast said...
"If so, 7:54, then why haven't hundreds of drug arrests reduced the other problems?"

Just because they aren't arresting the right people doesn't mean that drugs aren't the problem.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

So the government is arresting hundreds of people (in one zip code, mine) who aren't the "right people"? You're kinda making my point, 11:33.

Anonymous said...

But, my point is that drugs ARE the cause of the bulk of the crime. The police need to get more aggressive about it, and not less, and target the right people.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

8:13, who are these "right people," and if the ones arrested before were the wrong people, should they be locked up? How should we distinguish? Very curious, this circular reasoning you've got going. It makes my head hurt.

You say "drugs ARE the cause of the bulk of the crime." So let's say a few druggies are committing burglaries to pay for their dope. Does it make sense to arrest hundreds on the theory that drug users commit burglaries, but then barely ever prosecute anyone for burglary? Austin police have operated on that theory for years, even though the public wants police to go after burglars more than 7 times as much as drug crimes. It's because investigating burglaries is hard and busting druggies in poor neighborhoods is like collecting low hanging fruit.

Melissa Quink DeBerry said...
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orbi anim said...
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