You don’t target people, you target crime

Grits for Breakfast brings us a fascinating piece in the Houston Chronicle which pits the police unions against Harris County DA Pat Lykos over a recent policy change reducing the charge for crack pipe residue.

Grits notes that the climate has shifted enough away from uncritical all-out drug war that the police unions are getting push-back from judges, DAs and the public in their choice to attack this policy.

Crack policy puts Harris DA at odds with police

A man is stopped by a Houston police officer for riding his bicycle in the middle of the night without a headlight. He is patted down, and the officer finds a grungy glass pipe with the sooty residue of crack cocaine. The bicyclist does not have any other drugs and is not implicated in any other crimes.

Before Jan. 1, 2010, the tiny amount of crack in the pipe, comparable to a half grain of rice, meant the officer could charge the man with felony drug possession and lock him up.

After that day, the officer could only give him a misdemeanor ticket for drug paraphernalia and send him on his way – an administrative change at the Harris County District Attorney’s Office that infuriates Houston police.

The policy change, of course, makes a whole lot of sense – why waste a whole lot of court resources on such a low-level offense? The fact that the police are infuriated also, unfortunately is not a surprise. The absurdity of the police union position got even more blatant:

“These residue cases are instrumental in putting people behind bars – people who commit burglary of a motor vehicle, burglary of a habitation, aggravated robberies, strong arm robberies and they steal your cars,” said Eric Batton, vice president of the Harris County Deputies’ Organization. “These individuals do that to subsidize their drug addiction, so why wouldn’t you put them behind bars with trace cases?”


Um, let’s see if I can explain this. You’re the police. If someone steals a car, you arrest them and charge them with stealing a car. That may require some investigative work. You don’t just stick everybody that uses crack in jail for a few days and hope that stops car theft.

“The police aren’t really interested in arresting these people because they are in possession of residue, they’re interested in arresting them to achieve a different purpose,” said Geoffrey Corn, a professor at South Texas College of Law. “But the DA has an obligation to prosecute crime, not people. You don’t target people, you target crime.” He said the argument by police is understandable, but it disregards the presumption of innocence.

“It’s problematic to endorse a concept that is, effectively, preventive arrest,” Corn said.

It’s the same idea behind police unions wanting to keep marijuana illegal. In addition to how lucrative it is for them, of course, it gives police an excuse to search people and arrest people they don’t like or that they think are probably criminals, using the law to target people, rather than solving crime.

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18 Responses to You don’t target people, you target crime

  1. divadab says:

    How else are they going to keep the brown people down?

  2. ezrydn says:

    Police forget that THEY, themselves, do not write the laws of the land. The enforce those penaltys given them by the legal establishment. While it’s been trendy for enforcement to step up, they seem to forget it’s not THEIR show. It’s called “A Thin Blue Line” for a reason. And they’re giving us reason to make it even thinner. If they want such authority, then go where it’s found,i.e., China, Iran and our old namesake, even Vietnam.

    Time to move a lot of donut batter out of the house. It’s making them forget who and what they are.

    Finally, as kids, all of us were told, “seek an officer if you need help.” I seriously doubt any sane parent would tell their kids that today. The only thing “most” police are missing today is “an armband!”

    • darkcycle says:

      You got that right, Ez. One of my biggest concerns is: What do I tell my son about the police?

    • kaptinemo says:

      Part of why this kind of thing has gone on for so long is that Americans have yet to understand what naked, in-your-face fascism is like. But I fear that we shall soon learn, given what’s been happening to the Occupy movement.

      Whenever I traveled in Western Europe back in the 80’s and 90’s, I marveled at how little deference was shown the local police. There was a very good reason for this. Namely, the Nazi occupation a generation previously had left a very sour taste in the national memory of those countries.

      Literal ‘jackbooted thugs’ had run rampant in those countries, and the survivors swore they would never permit that to happen again, at least not in their lifetimes. And that meant an almost belligerent attitude on the part of many citizens not to allow their own police to do as the Nazis had by almost reflexively moving to protect their civil liberties at every opportunity. As one Dutch Rijkspolitie officer put it, “My father told me what it was like when the Nazis were here. We won’t do that to ourselves.”

      America, I fear, will learn that lesson, too…but like our European and Latin American cousins, we’ll learn it at a terrible price by losing what (tiny shreds) we have of our much vaunted liberties. I am afraid that we will ‘do it to ourselves’, and are indeed in that process right now. A process that can only end in revolution and/or civil war. Unless we have some kind of Great Awakening, wherein people begin to take their rights seriously and challenge the increasingly oppressive crypto-facsist state that seems to be finally shedding the crypto part and adopting full-on fascism, I am not so sanguine for the future.

      And herein is the greatest irony: those that society has savaged for decades for their choice of intoxicants have been the ones sounding the warning about those doing the savaging. Anyone who’s been part of an oppressed minority (and make no mistake dear readers, if you’re a practitioner of cognitive liberty of any stripe, that’s just what you are) are the canaries in the social mine shaft…and the air’s been getting damned toxic, lately. But for all the warnings that have been sounded down the long years, it’s only when the majority is affected that they listen…usually, when they feel the boot that’s been on our necks starts to grind its’ heel on theirs.

      • Matthew Meyer says:

        Nice one. I read the other day that Mexico’s 40000 deaths in the drug war violence there are the most since its revolution 100 years ago. The fact that Americans can receive this news without a sense of urgency shows just how numb we are to the kind of creeping reality you’re pointing to.

  3. Duncan20903 says:

    Did anyone else fall for the horseshit that “we don’t make the laws, we just enforce them. If you don’t like the law get it changed and we’ll start enforcing that one.” I’m ashamed to say that I did once upon a time when you could still fool me into believing fairy tales were real.

  4. Deep Dish says:

    I once applied for the state highway patrol and another time for a crime analyst position with the county sheriff’s office. I came within inches of landing the crime analyst position, but didn’t, and now do social services. In my experiences, I noticed I was the only non-ex-military guy. Cops aren’t scholars, they aren’t driven by the intellectual philosophies of law & justice, they just wanted to continue carrying a big ass gun.

  5. Tony Aroma says:

    It’s a Minority Report thing, you know, future crime. Arresting someone to prevent a crime they may or may not commit in the future is really no different than a conspiracy charge.

  6. claygooding says:

    I believe all the police hired during the drug war era should be canned and replaced..they are tainted.

  7. Francis says:

    The argument that it’s ok to turn things into crimes that shouldn’t be because it gives cops a “tool” that makes it easier for them to go after the “bad guys” is anathema to the rule of law. Using that logic, why not just make EVERYTHING illegal? That would really streamline the process, wouldn’t it? We could just trust that cops, judges, and prosecutors would use their discretion to only arrest and lock up the people that they “know” are deserving of punishment.

    • Addycat says:

      Exactly. There’s this little thing called the rule of law and due process that we purport to respect in this country. These bullshit arguments about using drug offenses to “get” to other crimes is just a way to get around all of the sacred rights that we take for granted. If you can arrest someone and throw them in jail for 10 years over a crack pipe, then you’ll never need a warrant under the Fourth Amendment ever again. Nor will you need a pesky jury trial, since you can threaten them with the max and get them to plead to avoid the “trial penalty” in their sentence. It makes me SICK.

  8. allan says:

    hmmm… check your state’s crime stats and see how they fare in solving crimes. Here in Oregon there are about 1,000 rapes a year and only 20% or so are resolved. Property crimes, auto theft… fuggedaboutit, about a 15% rate of crime solving. But there are some LE types here that swear all that is wrong in the world is because of hippies and their damn pot!

    • Duncan20903 says:

      Well they’d have time to arrest all those people if you damm hippies didn’t make the cops arrest you and take up all their time!

      Did you know that the crime rate in California is down 19% better that the entire nation since 1996? 1996 is when the Compassionate Use Act was voted into the law books. It’s even better if you break out California from the rest of the Country. With 12% of the population of the US living in California it has a significant impact on the nationwide statistics.

  9. ezrydn says:


    They’ve accepted the Hispanis View. It’s always “someone else’s fault.” I hear that probably 2-3 times a day here. “Obligation” and “Responsibility” never show their faces.

  10. me says:

    I always found it disturbing that Police so readily comment on what they feel should be legal and not legal. Police are paid to enforce laws, not voice their opinions on them.

    I think it’s particularly galling when a community changes a law and the Police take the position that they are going to ignore the change and keep going with the status quo.

  11. alanofsac says:

    Busting crack heads in LA was just a tactic of the “drug war” … along with the CIA supporting the Contras by assisting Cocaine smuggling for weapons and flooding LA with crack Oliver North was PARDONED .. You cant be pardoned unless you commit a crime

    Grab a copy of “Kill The Messenger” for a readable overview also “The Great White Lie” for a more in depth view

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