About . . . . Classes . . . . Books . . . . Vita . . . . Blog. . . . Podcast

by Peter Moskos

April 3, 2009

Dangerous Drug Raids?

Not for police. Here's the story from Drug War Chronicle. I'm quoted in it.


Anonymous said...

As a Houston Police officer, I would likely to strongly object to this article's characterization of the murder of Officer T.S. Abernethy (please note that this is the correct spelling of this officer's last name, not "Abernathy" as it is spelled in the article). This article characterizes Officer Abernethy as having given his life "maintaining drug prohibition." Officer Abernethy was killed follwing a traffic stop. The man who killed him, Mabry Landor, was on parole for a felony D.W.I. Mr. Landor was a convicted felon who was, apparently, in possession of Glock .40. Officer Abernethy pulled the Mr. Landor over for an unknown traffic violation and the suspect stopped in an apartment complex parking lot. Mr. Landor immediately bailed on foot into the apartment complex. Officer Abernethy pursued Mr. Landor on foot. Mr. Landor ran around a blind corner, stopped, hid, and set up an ambush for Officer Abernethy. As Officer Abernethy ran around the corner, his killer shot him once, at which point Officer Abernethy fell to the ground. Mr. Landor then shot him in the head at close range, twice, as Officer Abernethy lay on the ground. Mr. Landor then went back to his car and drove home, where he was taken into custody, follwing another foot chase.

I am not sure where this article gathers the conclusion that Officer Abernethy was killed "maintaining drug prohibition." Officer Abernethy was not a narcotics officer, nor did the stop seem to have any nexus to narcotics activity. Mr. Landor indeed did have a lengthy history of narcotics arrests, however, he was not on probation/parole at the time of the murder for narcotics, nor has there been any contention that he was engaged in narcotics activity at the time of the killing.

Like you, Mr. Moskos, I identify myself as a "liberal" and I would like, at the least, to see more public debate about drug decriminalization. I won't say I am for or against decriminalization, but I will say I am open to any and all alternatives to the current state of affairs. I am not impassioned drug warrior. But it seems to me that this article plays fast and loose with the facts in regard to the circumstances of Officer Abernethy's death. Its connection to narcotics activity is so slight that it does not bear mentioning, much less the prominence accorded to it in this article. And while this likely seems like a small point to most, as an officer who attended Officer Abernethy's funeral and accutely felt the pain that comes with losing another officer, it is a significant issue for me.

PCM said...

Well said.

And I'm very sorry for the pain you've been through. And reading misinterpretations about Abernethy's death certainly does not make it any easier.

I'll try and forward your your comment to the author of that article.

David Borden said...

After reviewing the comments left by Officer Abernethy's colleague, we have concluded that it was erroneous to include him in our listing, and I would like to offer our apology for any pain caused to him or others. We have revised the article accordingly, and I have posted an errata notice here. The notice will also appear in the next issue of our newsletter.

Please note that our article did state near the beginning that only seven of the nine cases we listed were unambiguously related to enforcing drug laws, and did identify Officer Abernethy as one of two people who "died after stopping drivers who had been arrested and imprisoned before on drug charges and were apparently not ready to return to prison." Our editor's only motive in including this case was that he initially thought it was an example of that. Please also note that we would have had no incentive in any case to present a higher number of officer deaths rather than a lower one, because our article argued that drug enforcement is less dangerous than is commonly believed, not more.

Anonymous said...

Sorry I missed this article, I guess the point is to highlight the "unnecessary damage" done by narcotics enforcement. But I take issue with your characterization of narcotics squads:
"These guys tend to be whiter, more conservative, and guys who like breaking down six doors a day. In the drug squads in particular, they really tear it up. There is a certain vindictiveness; they think 'these people are assholes, they deserve it.'"
First a little disclosure. I have been a cop in NYC for twenty years and have done narcotics work for several of them. I found the narcotics work rewarding even as I kept an open mind about the "war on drugs". I naver had any qualms aboput arresting perfectly healthy dealers who profit from other peoples' addictions. On to the attack! (kidding)

Are you playing racial politics (or just playing to the article's audience) claiming that narcotics squads are whiter? I would argue that in my experience, just the opposite is true. In NYC undercovers are virtually all black or hispanic, and "investigators" are a pretty healthy mix, less white than the Patrol Bureau. More conservative? Most cops are conservative, I've never noticed a difference in narcotics cops. I know you were exagerating saying six doors a day, but implying that narc squads just run around breaking down doors is kind of insulting.

"They really tear it up."???

The need to dehumanize people and feel that "these people are assholes, they deserve it" may not be vindictiveness, it may just be a human reaction to jailing fellow human beings and wanting to differentiate yourself from them. (I don't know, you're the professor.) I've said things like this from time to time, but it is a different story when that attitude becomes a deciding factor in how you treat people vs how you talk in the locker room.
Well, there it is, I generally like the way you speak about cops, but you came off as a little condescending towards narcotics cops. I know you were preaching to the "anti-prohibition" choir but if you read the comments on that site some of the readers have a pretty dim view of cops and I don't think these comments helped. I'm not trying to play gotcha with your quote, but I think sometimes LEAP members forget that their opinion of cops is taken as gospel by non-police readers.

PCM said...


Sorry if I said it wrong. I didn't mean that narcotic squads are whiter. Street-level narcotic officers are more likely to be minority (which can be a whole nother problem). And the NYPD in particular is more diverse than most police departments.

I meant that the squads that generally bust down doors--the QRTs, emergency services, all the SWAT-like teams--they tend to be whiter and more conservative than the average police squad. Nationwide, I'm talking about. There's some proof for that, too (though I can't point you to that right now).

I also agree strongly that locker-room talk and actually behavior are not the same thing. But I've also seen the aftermath of drug-squad raids in Baltimore. Even compared to other police raids, the narcs really do "tear up" homes.

Sometimes it seemed a little over the top to me. But then I never had to do that. And I do know you can hide drugs anywhere. So who am I to say?

But honestly, I guess I am a little condescending toward narcotic cops. I think the war on drugs is a bad fight to fight. What can I say? I would feel the same way about Prohibition agents during alcohol prohibition.

I know drugs are a dirty game and I don't like to see cops caught up in that. And I resent that police corruption, when it does happen, almost always comes out of narcotics. It gives all cops a bad name.

And kind of related, I wish the NYPD got more credit. Because I think the NYPD does a better job than most other departments on almost everything. Including drug raids. But I don't think the NYPD, despite it's size and prominence, is typical.

In other cities, drug squads do bust down door after door based on half-assed information from CI junkies.

Anonymous said...

I agree that most cases of corruption are related to narcotics in some way. Corruption usually begins wherever the money is. These days the money is in drugs. But why does that mean an honest narcotics cop should be looked down upon? Because you have a moral disagreement with the focus of his assignment doesn't mean he's corrupt or less of a cop. He probably believes in what he's doing or else is too burnt out to care (not good).

PCM said...

Yeah, I suppose you're right. Don't get me wrong... I too fought the war on drugs. Honestly and, I think, well.

I was policing ground zero of the drug war back there in the Eastern District. But I did see the drug trade as more of a major quality-of-life issue than some sort of moral crusade against evil.

I just think that everybody, not only narcotic officers and not just police officers, needs to be able to take a step back and see the bigger picture about what they do and what they're a part of.

I don't see the nobility in locking up a lot of people on drug charges and sending them to prison when we're not making any progress in actually winning the war on drugs.