Baker Institute paper: Houston, Harris County law enforcement leaders favor drug policy reform

Houston and Harris County law enforcement leaders support the need for drug policy reforms in the United States, according to experts at Rice University’s Baker Institute for Public Policy.

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A new paper, “Houston-Area Law Enforcement Leaders Favor Drug Policy Reform,” authored by William Martin, director of the Baker Institute’s Drug Policy Program, comprises excerpts from interviews that Dean Becker, a contributing expert to the Drug Policy Program, conducted with former Houston Police Chief Charles McClelland (2010-2016), current Chief Art Acevedo, Harris County Sheriff Ed Gonzalez and District Attorney Kim Ogg, along with additional comments by Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner and Precinct 1 County Commissioner Rodney Ellis.

“These interviews document a notable congruence of opinion among Houston-area law enforcement leaders regarding U.S. drug policy — federal, state and local — and the need for reform,” Martin wrote. He cited several examples:

“Most of us who are law enforcement executives believe that the war on drugs, the 1980s drug policies, was a miserable failure,” McClelland said in an interview. “There’s no doubt about that. … Most police chiefs understand that when it comes to marijuana use, we cannot criminalize such a large population of society that engage in casual marijuana use. You just can’t continue to do that. We understand that. We do.”

Gonzalez stressed openness to reform by police. “We’ve been misguided in law enforcement for some time,” he said. “We try to find a law enforcement solution to things that simply don’t have a law enforcement solution. Three of those are poverty, mental illness and drug use/addiction.”

Ogg said, “No evidence shows that aggressive prosecution of possession of marijuana, simple possession, has ever made us safer.” She was elected Harris County district attorney in 2016 after running on a platform whose most notable plank was a pledge to change the way misdemeanor marijuana offensives are dealt with in the county.

Acevedo said, “When you see all these police chiefs here, the constables and the leader of the chiefs of police here in Harris County, what you’re seeing is unity. What some may characterize as being soft on crime, we’re trying to be smart on crime, focusing on what’s important to the people of this community, which is life, limb and their property.”

Since 2000, Becker has interviewed more than 1,000 people for his Drug Truth Network broadcasts that originate on Houston’s KPFT-FM radio and are carried on 70-plus stations throughout the country. Extensive archives of these interviews in both audio and transcript forms are available on the Drug Policy Program’s website. In 2014, with assistance from the Baker Institute and Law Enforcement Against Prohibition, Becker published “To End the War on Drugs,” a topical arrangement of about 100 of these interviews.

About Jeff Falk

Jeff Falk is associate director of national media relations in Rice University's Office of Public Affairs.