Norm Stamper's new book

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Former Seattle Police Chief Norm Stamper has had an interesting career. In 1999, he was Chief during the WTO riots and was criticized for his handling of the events. He subsequently retired and moved to a cabin in the San Juan Islands and started writing a book. In These Times magazine's Silja J.A. Talvi interviewed him and the candor is refreshing:
Breaking Rank
Former Seattle police chief Norm Stamper takes on the drug war, domestic violence, community policing, and the WTO

In 1999 Norm Stamper made international news in a most inglorious way, as the police chief of the Seattle Police Department during the WTO-related demonstrations. For this 34-year veteran police officer with a Ph.D. in behavioral psychology, it was not his proudest moment. Stamper now says that he made serious mistakes.

Stamper�s resignation and retirement from the force followed shortly thereafter. He moved to a cabin in Washington�s San Juan Islands and began to write a book that would put him in a different kind of spotlight altogether, as an advocate for the legalization of drugs and prostitution, as well as a critic of racism, sexually predatory behavior and the prevalence of domestic violence within police departments.
A brief excerpt from the interview:
When did you first start thinking about decriminalizing or legalizing illicit substances? And what got you thinking about this in the first place?
These are concepts I�ve had in mind since the �60s and �70s. Especially in the case of drugs, I�ve always believed that these kinds of "crimes" have to be challenged, and that we have to be willing to look at the high price that we are paying�psychically and physically�as officers, in continuing to enforce these laws against individuals.

If I choose to inject, inhale, sniff, snort, or for that matter, put a bullet in my brain, that�s a choice I should have as an adult. Where the line is drawn for society is if I choose to be irresponsible in committing those acts. Then I need to be held accountable for my behavior. For instance, if I furnish a kid with drugs, or if I abuse a spouse, then I need to be held accountable for my criminal actions.

The hypocrisy of keeping the prohibition on these substances going, yet making no moves to ban alcohol as a choice for adults, is staggering. We know there are far greater problems associated with alcohol abuse. Just as with alcohol, though, I think it should be viewed as a basic civil liberty for people to be able to use whatever drugs they want, and second, to treat the abuse of drugs as a medical problem, which is what it is. It is a public health issue, not an issue for the law to deal with.

But you can�t deny the fact that some drugs, such as crystal meth, really are more dangerous than others.
Yes, that�s true. Some drugs are more dangerous than others. We know people are doing meth, and that can be a very damaging and addicting drug. But if we start looking at the potential damage caused by any drug�and on that basis say "Outlaw it and all other drugs like it"�then we get this sort of twisted logic that says you have a right as an adult to do whatever you want to and put whatever you want in your body, except this substance or that substance. It doesn�t make sense for us to dictate those exceptions. It makes sense for us to provide education, information and treatment, but not to tell people, by law, what not to put in their bodies. That approach has clearly proven not to be effective.

How have other members of law enforcement�including other police chiefs�reacted to your call for the legalization of drugs?
I�m not well-liked by many people in the field for saying these things.

It doesn�t seem like that bothers you.
I want people to be provoked and to have them react to the book, and to talk about subjects that are very important to us at the levels of society and community. These issues have a great relevance. But there seems to be a lack of political sophistication and even an intolerance for reasoned debate. Instead, we line up fast on one side or another and proceed to scream at each other. For me, that gets real old, real fast. I have very strong views and I do express them forcefully, but this book was designed to encourage people who care about law and justice to really think about the issues.

I have had police say to me, in person, "Norm, I couldn�t find anything I disagreed with on that chapter on drugs." But when I ask if they�d be willing to speak about that openly, the suggestion is met with laughter. No, absolutely not, they can�t risk their careers to do that, is what they tell me. If they do, they�ll get labeled a "Stamper."

That�s actually a term being used to describe people who speak out about these kinds of things in law enforcement?
(Laughs) Yes. We�re very good in this society at labeling people and, in the process, cutting off meaningful conversation.
A rather long but wonderful interview -- sounds like someone I would like to meet.

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This page contains a single entry by DaveH published on November 6, 2005 9:47 PM.

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