Wednesday, December 03, 2008

El Paso flooded with drugs for five years while authorities watched

Prof. Alexandra Natapoff argues that widespread use of confidential informants (a.k.a., "snitches") may actually increase crime overall because the tactic encourages police to tolerate crime instead of enforcing the law.

That issue was raised this week by an El Paso court case in which a jury just returned RICO convictions for a half-dozen members of the Barrio Azteca gang, providing a rare glimpse into both the drug-running underworld in Juarez's sister city and the well-intentioned but problematic tactics used to investigate high-level drug crimes. Reported the El Paso Times ("6 in Barrio Azteca guilty," Dec. 3):

After the verdict, Herrera's lawyer, Ken Del Valle, criticized the FBI's use of informant Josue "Casper" Aguirre, a member of the gang who had criminal charges dismissed and was paid a total of $75,000 by the government.

Aguirre, who has left El Paso in fear of his life, testified that at one time, the BA was collecting quotas from 47 drug sellers.

"During the course of this five-year investigation, the FBI allowed 47 dope houses to operate in El Paso so they could gather evidence about the Barrio Azteca extorting these dope houses," Del Valle said. "If each of those houses sold an ounce a day, over five years, they allowed over 5,000 pounds of drugs to be on the streets of El Paso."

Was it worth allowing thousands of pounds of drugs onto the street to secure these six convictions? Would El Pasoans have been better served by shutting down 47 dope houses over the last five years? How many angels can dance on the head of a pin? Quien sabe?

Even local police don't think these convictions will shut down Barrio Azteca's drug operation:
"It doesn't mean the Barrio Azteca will be wiped out by any stretch of the imagination, but it puts them on notice that their drug dealing and murderous activities will not be tolerated," El Paso Police Chief Greg Allen said.
Well, as long as BA is "on notice" I'm sure people living near the 47 locations where drug dealing was knowingly tolerated won't mind, right?

MORE: The issue of whether tolerating crime by informants may increase crime overall made me think of a recent study (mentioned in this Grits roundup post) purporting to sustain the so-called "Broken Windows" theory that "if people look around and see other people violating norms, they will tend to violate them as well."

How does that observation, to the extent it's correct, apply to a police tactic that allows 47 drug houses to operate in El Paso for five years? Doesn't the "Broken Windows" theory imply that doing that actually caused other crime because people saw those crimes were tolerated?

Alexandra Natapoff, whose critiques of snitching I've relied on for this argument, and James Q Wilson, the progenitor of the Broken Windows theory, come from very different places on the political spectrum (he's a neocon intellectual, she's a former federal public defender), but their theories on this subject seem to coincide.


Anonymous said...

In other words, 'business as usual'. Same old, same old. The ghosts of long-dead rum-runners must be laughing their arses off in Hell, as nobody has learned anything from the lessons of substance prohibition other than how to streamline the operation...

Anonymous said...

They watched these guys for five years? Half a decade?

There's something so wrong with that picture.

Anonymous said...

"It puts them on notice that their drug dealing and murderous activities will not be tolerated."

They won't tolerate it for more than five years at a time, anyways.

Anonymous said...

What this story fails to mention, and what the feds will not necessarily reveal, is that though the drug houses may have continued to operate in some manner, various cases were, most likely, also being made with that info. For example, though a house may have had drugs passing through, the load may have been taken off after it departed the house by using a marked police unit to do a pretextual traffic stop on the transporting vehicle under the guise of a traffic violation. Done on a regular basis. This is not offered as an apology but as a possible explanation...for many U.S. Attorneys will not allow a load to continue into commerce, if preventable (though I cannot speak for the USA for El Paso area, I believe which is in the West Texas district). :)

Viagra Online said...

Heap! like I really want to believe that police doesn't commit any corruption related to drugs. It's almost impossible to stop police from doing the wrong thing because everything seems to be on their favor.

Anonymous said...

you got to be kidding that you dont want to believe the cops are in the drug dealing???hell,in burk-berkett tx the cops regularly hang out at the biggest supplier in town!!!in spfld ,mo,at least part of the dea there was in on regular runs to tx for large amounts of coke and pot in the 80,s!!many people think the suzan streeter and her daughter and friend was killed by dirty cops cause streeter was deep in debt on her coke bill!!they were kidnapped and never found back in 80,s!one dea guy was well known to shoot up crank with some people and some people he would bust,others he wouldnt!when his bosses found out,he got demoted back to patrol!!!the drug war has caused infinitely more trouble,pain,and misery than the drugs!!!its a tragic,distructive policy that needs to STOP!!!