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by Peter Moskos

June 25, 2015

Customers line up for heroin in Chicago

So what do you want cops to do about this?

From the Chicago Sun-Times. The 3700 block of W. Grenshaw. 3711 W. Grenshaw, to be exact, according to my google streetview snooping skills. It's not even a horrible looking block, to be honest. I mean, it's not the best looking block. But there are a bunch of well-kept homes. It's a short walk to the L. Two of Chicago's largest parks are within walking distance. You can get a great building with a few units for under $120,000. But, of course, that's not the point. Because of course none of that matter with scenes like pictured above.

I'm certain the neighbors called police. So what should cops do? Short of legalize and regulate distribution, this is what I have never heard a good answer to.

Decriminalizing small-scale heroin possession isn't the answer. Because then police have no legal authority over everybody lined up to buy drugs. And police do need to "do something."

In this case, there was an investigation, the Feds were involved, a big raid, and dozens of people were arrested. That's all well and good. And it cost hundreds of thousands of dollars in law enforcement and court costs. It will cost millions of dollars in prison time.

And for what? So now somebody else is selling. At a different house. Now what? Wash, rinse, and repeat isn't good enough.

[Two miles from this house is this block]


Dave- IL said...

This is a tough one for anti-drug war, civil libertarian types (like me). Long-term, of course, we need to have a legal, regulated system that will make it easier for people addicted to opiates to get help without fearing arrest. That should reduce demand.

Short-term, you are correct that this is not an acceptable situation for this neighborhood. I wouldn't want it in my neighborhood, so I'm not going to make glib remarks when it happens in another neighborhood. Are they blocking sidewalks, are they littering, pissing in the alleys, etc. Cite them. Beyond that, this is where neighborhood foot patrols would work better than motorized patrols. Imagine if there were a couple cops standing around (not driving by). Or sitting in lawn chairs chatting up the crowd. Maybe they could film the scene. Think the crowds might thin out a bit?

With that said, we wouldn't see this kind of obnoxious behavior if we had sensible drug policies. The government has made a choice to turn this into a criminal justice problem. And these are the results. Dig a hole, fill it up, dig a hole...

Anonymous said...

Lock up the dealers. They're selling poison to people, and they know it. Hard time all around.

Civil commitment for addicts. Addiction is a mental illness, easily treatable, and there's no reason to act like there's nothing that can be done to help.

Of course, white America doesn't want to pay the taxes for either of those things. Much easier to give up, listen to the Ayn Rand Paulians, and let the free market kill and maim people. Then we can have low taxes, clean hands, and none of us have to live in urban Chicago anyway.

Dave- IL said...

"Addiction is a mental illness, easily treatable,"

--citation needed--

And the civil commitment part would be a major civil liberties problem. Some people are functioning drug addicts. They hurt no one but themselves. People can be committed--temporarily--for suicidal ideations, homicidal ideations or diminished capacity (intoxication, psychosis, dementia). Do you really want to start putting people in secure inpatient facilities because they drink too much?

cap vandal said...

We almost had a solution. Thank the public health/anti drug abuse industry for blowing it.

Pain Clinics were dispensing Oxycodone freely. It was semi legalization. There were records. Patients had charts. It was done indoors. It was orderly.

And, a lot of it was dispensed to people with pain. I mean, the agony of a back that has been trashed after a couple of decades of construction work. And the like.


There were about 16,000 overdose deaths from Rx opiods in 2011, now down to 15,000. Some of these deaths were suicide, others were non junkies -- so the 16,000 over states the number of deaths that are theoretically preventable by tighter controls.

From 2010 to 2013 there was roughly a threefold increase in Heroin OD's from 3,000 to 8,000. This is an idea of what these places look like. http://www.tampabay.com/specials/2010/reports/prescription-drug-abuse/images/law.jpg
and http://images1.browardpalmbeach.com/imager/are-there-really-more-pain-clinics-in-brow/u/original/6451706/pain_clinic.jpg

There were controls on these places. Every script was signed by an MD. Every patient had a chart. The DEA knew ever single pill that was being dispensed. And, absolutely, a large portion went to white junkies.

But still .... where did the idea originate that the only choice was to let the ghetto devolve into an open air drug market OR fight a war on drugs? Quasi legalization is the quickest and easiest way to clear up the corners.

Opiates will *never* be legalized in the US. It is a third rail issue. The solution is to come up with another drug that can substitute for the current ones. We have pain. And we have a hell of a lot of adult ADHD.

In terms of inequality -- more than a little drug use by impoverished Americans is self medication. People with money have access to anti-depressants and anti anxiety medications. All legal.

In terms of death ... cigarettes and alcohol kill Americans in the hundreds of thousands. So, we have moved the social costs of drug abuse to our poorest citizens.

Unknown said...

Lock up the dealers? Lol... Dont u know that's what they been doing?! That's why u got so many ppl in prison and STILL so many drugs on the street.And when one dealers gone two more pop up. . . No please, keep locking up the dealers that's a great idea I bet it will totally work why hasn't anyone ever thought of it.

Unknown said...

They are not lining up to buy heroin they are getting a free sample called a pass out so they are not buying it they are getting a free sample get your facts right

Moskos said...

I think that's pretty obvious from the picture and nature of the drug trade. In Baltimore we call them testers.

But that wasn't my point. My point is the police do need legal authority over the drug trade, whether the drugs are being sold or passed out.

chrisfromiowa said...

There are three big elements to this that seem to fall through the cracks policy conversation wise.
1, most of the policy makers come from the Use is Abuse group, so nothing is acceptable, so its not really a conversation, more a lecture from a very specific point of view.
2, conceptually how is drug use any different from any of the other legal intoxicants and stimulants like alcohol, nicotine, or caffeine? Most OD's seem to be caused by variances in quality and quantity, ie is this $10 bag the same as those 2 $5 bags, or that vendors $10 bag, how is this compared to your normal dose of oxy?
3, how well did alcohol prohibition work, didn't it just fill the pockets of criminal gangs and just because it was illegal make it cost more.
Growing up my parents were in AA and I saw alcoholics my whole life and have never wanted to drink. I think allowing some type of decriminalization would take drug use from out of the shadows and eliminate the cool factor.