Thousands of Rapists Are Not Behind Bars Because Cops Focus on Marijuana Users

Thousands of Rapists Are Not Behind Bars Because Cops Focus on Marijuana Users

A recent piece in the Washington Post highlights the growing backlog of untested rape test kits that are sitting in police storage units while rapists run free and victims suffer.  Missing from the story, however, is one of the biggest contributors to this backlog, the enormous amount of police and tax resources spent targeting drug crimes, particularly marijuana possession.

The backlog is a disgrace. The total number of rape test kits that have never been sent to laboratories for testing exceeds 100,000. In some cases, the kits have been sitting in storage for decades. From the Washington Post:

“In 2009, authorities found more than 11,000 unprocessed kits at the Detroit crime lab after it was closed for improperly handling weapons evidence. After testing the first 2,000 kits, authorities identified 127 serial rapists and made 473 matches overall to known convicts or arrestees, or to unknown people whose genetic material was found at crime scenes.”

The real question is why does this backlog exist at all? Cities and states claim they don’t have the money or other resources, but they sure do have plenty of time and money to arrest people for drugs.

About 1.5 million Americans are arrested for drugs annually – about 660,000 for nothing more than possession of marijuana for personal use. It takes up to three hours to process someone after an arrest. And since most arrests involve multiple officers in multiple police cars it’s potentially dozens of lost police hours just to arrest one person for marijuana.

It costs an estimated $10,000 to arrest, process, and convict someone for marijuana possession. Then there’s the cost of keeping thousands of drug task forces operational, most of which do nothing but bust people for marijuana or other low-level drug offenses. New York City claims to not have enough money to test all its rape test kits but spends millions each year randomly searching young people of color for marijuana.

Worse, police have a financial incentive to focus on drugs.  Federal grant programs, such as the Edward J. Byrne Justice Assistance Grant (JAG) program, reward local and state police for the number of people they arrest. Through asset forfeiture laws police agencies are allowed to keep money, cars, houses and other proceeds from the drug trade. Busting nonviolent drug offenders allows them to line their own agency’s coffers. They don’t get anything for arresting rapists or other violent criminals.

When the Drug Policy Alliance did an asset forfeiture reform ballot measure in Utah that directed forfeiture proceeds to the state’s general treasury instead of police budgets, police said that if the measure passed they would have no reason to go after drug offenders. The initiative passed and drug arrests and seizures decreased. Police eventually convinced the legislature to gut the initiative and let them return to profiting from drug cases.

At least one national policymaker gets the connection between the war on drugs and the increasing backlog in rape kit testing: Rep. Steve Cohen (D-TN). He recently offered an amendment on the U.S. House floor shifting $5 million from the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) to a rape test kit testing program. It passed overwhelmingly.

Polling shows that voters support legalizing or decriminalizing marijuana because they want to stop wasting police resources. They want police to focus on real crime, like rape, instead of ruining people’s lives with an arrest record for marijuana possession. Unfortunately there are still politicians and police officers supporting the failed war on drugs. It’s time we start calling them out.

Every dollar and police hour spent on nonviolent drug offenders is money and time not spent on real crime.

Bill Piper is the director of national affairs for the Drug Policy Alliance.

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  • confused

    I live in Houston, TX where I was thrown in jail for half a gram two years ago. It cost me THREE THOUSAND DOLLARS to get it all taken off my record. There is a sex club FULL of sex slaves on every corner in Texas, although Houston by far wins the all time award for sex slavery. I am 57 year old white female driving a toyato minivan. My weed was in a medicinal marijuana container. Why should the police want to do real work when they can throw grandma in jail for medicine. Oh, and all of the officers thought it was really funny too and rubbed it in when I was sitting in jail.

    • fumes

      So sorry for what you went through. We are living in the Dark Ages regarding Cannabis with the light only just starting to shine in. Unfortunately for you Texas is one of the darkest states and will be one of the last to see the light. ;-}-~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

    • Ezry Myrh

      I am also sorry for what you and so many others have endeared over the years, it is true we live in a dark time where faerie tales and reefer madness reins supreme in the hearts of the monsters at the helm of government, if it makes you feel better look at my state NY, what a sick sad joke it is, where we need to beg and parade our dying to impress those in power.

    • Hank Pym

      Its so sad, but true. Its statistics like the ones from this article that shows the true nature of police officers priorities (as a result of the war on drugs); they only suspect you are one of the “bad guys” if they think you are a drug user. 99% of the time an officer makes a traffic stop, the first thought that goes through there head is “is this person a user, and are there any drugs”.

      Just yet another example of how the war on drugs is detrimental to areas outside of drug addiction and drug use. Its unbelievable– when you ask a prohibitionist why they think weed should be illegal, the best they can come up with is that ” it makes you lazy and not want to do anything in your life”. Or that “it teaches kids that drugs are alright, and they are more likely to use”. In my personal opinion, both of these pale in comparison to the detrimental effects that are caused by the drug war, such as rapes being treated like jaywalking.

      Its time that people start opening their eyes to the vast gammit of adverse effects caused by prohibition. Articles like this one make my stomach churn, and I’m sure if more people were aware of instances like this, they would be much more open to the idea of ending prohibition.

  • Mike

    This is a really shameful situation. One would almost expect various law enforcement officials to be asking for enough extra funds to handle all violent crime, but they obviously have a different set of priorities. Certainly, federal inducements drive a lot of what is a law enforcement priority. That’s a disgrace on its own. The government is looking into whether colleges do enough to prevent and prosecute sexual assault right now, which is undoubtedly an issue. But what about something even more basic, simply processing all rape kits?

    The police, of course, insist they are dealing with crime when they pursue cannabis. After all, isn’t anyone associated with cannabis by definition a criminal, maybe even a felon? That’s about like saying that prosecuting milk drinkers will help fight crime, though. Most people who use cannabis are otherwise law-abiding citizens.

    And of course, that sort of argument gets even more twisted once one considers racial disparities in enforcement, where African-Americans are prosecuted for cannabis at many times the rates of whites, despite virtually identical use rates. Once again, a matter of law enforcement priorities that seem out of whack with reality, but which are great for running up statistics that look good on grant paperwork.

    It’s unlikely that rape is the only violent crime where criminals walk the streets because the police would rather concentrate their limited resources on cannabis, either. The best way to deal with this issue is to focus police on violent crime by making cannabis legal.

  • Ezry Myrh

    In some states it is against the law to NOT help those in need, Yet those in power can do it, Why, How can they, it makes me ill to see anyone in need and not help, but they show no remorse, only the white hot agenda they want fulfilled. This action describes a sociopath when they lack all human emotion, and only wish to further themselves off of US and our suffering with no remorse for their actions.

  • Mike

    Did some more thinking on this in connection with a policy idea I’ve been kicking around for some time, but haven’t written about yet.

    The police see marijuana a a big cash cow, a reliable generator of “good” statistics, and — frankly — old fashioned job security. I won’t begin to go into what’s wrong with that and a lot more about how police prioritize their efforts. But I do have an idea to neutralize the police and, yes, help get them back on the right track to doing the job they should be, instead of hassling otherwise law-abiding citizens.

    We, as a movement, should make it clear that we oppose cutting police budgets and personnel simply because of legalization. Instead, those resources should be redirected toward dealing with things like the backlog of rape kits/cases, violent crime, domestic violence, TALKING ON CELL PHONES WHILE DRIVING (way more dangerous than driving stoned, BTW), etc, etc.

    It might be a way to open a dialogue with the police in many cases as things move forward. Politicians always are looking over their shoulders at what the cops think about things like MMJ, decrim, legalization, etc. If the cops start telling them, either they couldn’t care less or that it would actually be a good thing, it would help us as a society get past this silliness of prohibition in good order. The police in most jurisdictions badly need to work on restoring the public’s faith in them. This is one way to help that along that can be a wain-win, all around.

    Anyway, something for folks like DPA, MPP, and others to consider, as it’s a strategy that really helps everyone’s image and gets us that much closer to the day when we’ll be able to enjoy all of our rights as Americans without the ball-and-chain of prohibition.

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