When most people think about crime, they focus on violent crime like murder, burglary, rape, and assault. One would assume these are the types of crime police are most concerned with, yet this is not always so. When police work to reduce crime, their primary focus is on the number of arrests they make rather than the type of crime they’re helping get off the streets. This is not a conscious decision made by individual police officers; this is the result of a system put in place during the War on Drugs, which incentivized police departments to make easy arrests and more of them.
In 2011, over 663,000 people were arrested for simple marijuana possession. That’s 100,000 more than arrests for all violent crimes combined that year. Police officers routinely benefit from pursuing low-level criminals like drug users. There are three primary reasons drug arrests have superseded arrests for any other type of crime.
Over 50% of inmates currently in federal prison are there for drug offenses. This is up significantly from 1970, when that number was only 16%. In 1988, the government started the Edward Byrne Memorial Justice Assistance Grant Program to reward police departments throughout the country that actively participated in the War on Drugs.
Through this program, local and state police departments receive federal funding based on how many people were arrested, rather than an overall reduction in crime. To receive funding, states are required to report the number of arrests made, how many of those arrests were drug seizures, the type of drugs seized and their quantity by weight, and the total value of the funds and assets forfeited.
Byrne grant funds can be used for various law enforcement purposes, including purchasing police equipment. Sometimes, this money is allotted toward officer overtime. The more arrests that are made, the more paperwork the arresting officers need to file, which means the more overtime hours (and pay) they can accumulate. They also gain more overtime from having to make court appearances for those arrests. Having several arrests on record at the end of the month also boosts an officer’s image.
Civil asset forfeiture is a practice by which police are allowed to confiscate property if they believe it is tied to criminal activity. They typically take possessions like cash, cars, and even real estate. The money they collect from this practice can be used to purchase new patrol cars, guns, and other necessities.
The state of Florida continues to aggressively pursue nonviolent drug crimes. Simple possession of marijuana and narcotic drug offenses can carry significant penalties. Working with an experienced attorney like Brian Gabriel of The Law Office of Gabriel & Gabriel can help you fight back. With over 30 years of experience defending drug crimes in West Palm Beach, he can provide a solid defense for your case. Call 561-622-5575 for a free consultation.