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Monday, September 15, 2008

Arresting More Pot Smokers Lowering Violent Crime

posted by on September 15 at 12:54 PM

That’s one way to read the Crime in the United States Report released today by the FBI. In 2007, the FBI says violent crime went “down” and showcases a nifty graphic.


Meanwhile, law enforcement made more arrests for drugs than for any other offense in 2007, the FBI reports in un-flashy text. The largest category of drug offenses is an all-time record for pot busts. Law enforcement arrested 872,720 people for pot (775,138 just for possession), up about 42,000 pot busts from 2006.

Can we take this to mean that cracking down on pot smokers—instigators of violent crime nationwide—has thus protected the citizenry from assault? Well, nobody’s saying that, of course, because most pot smokers would forgo assault for table salt.

But how many actual criminals are out there to be arrested? According to the federal drug survey released earlier this month, about 19.9 million people had used a drug within the last month when they were surveyed in 2007. This is more than all of the people arrested for anything at all: “In 2007… 14,209,365 arrests occurred nationwide for all offenses,” the FBI estimates.

There are more drug users than law enforcement’s capacity for arresting them. So, rather then suggesting busting more people for pot smoking decreases violent crime, it would it be less ridiculous—perhaps even disgustingly plausible—that more people are getting away with assault, robbery, and theft because the cops are our busting record numbers of pot smokers.

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Uh... I suspect those charts are for reported crimes, not arrests.

Posted by east coaster | September 15, 2008 1:06 PM

I don't care what the FBI says, violent crime isn't down, arrests for violent crimes are. I can't say for sure that this is directly related to law enforcement's preoccupation with drug busts, but it could be.

Unlike most violent crimes - especially in urban areas - drug crimes are actually something they can get a conviction for. It doesn't surprise me they're targeting those cases.

Posted by Dougsf | September 15, 2008 1:07 PM

over 2100 busts PER DAY? wow. just wow.

Posted by max solomon | September 15, 2008 1:16 PM

east coaster @1 is correct. The data in the graphic is for reported crimes, not arrests.

Posted by elrider | September 15, 2008 1:23 PM

Methinks accusations of violence in pot smokers is a rather strange 'projection' of alcoholics.

The link between that drug and violence is undisputed - I personally suspect that violence in pot smokers is soley a result from abuses of authority, including that of the drinking 'gang'.

-Douglas Tooley
from the McKinley Neighborhood CoffeeHouse, Tacoma

Posted by Douglas Tooley | September 15, 2008 1:29 PM

Actual violent crime has fallen dramatically over the past 25 years -- we're talking like more than halved. This is not based on arrest statistics, but on report statistics. (If you really believe that people just decided to stop reporting half the murders, assults, and burglaries that they were reporting before, you are beyond hope.)

Furthermore, real criminologists and real statisticians have done a heap of work to try to ferret out the causes: community policing? economics? population aging? abortion?

There are still many controversies, but I'm afraid that your ideology is going to have to come to terms with one element of consensus: the fact that we are locking up significantly more not-too-well-socialized people is a significant part of the explanation.

Next time, go read some of the serious work that has been done in this area before going off about how, if you ignore the statistics and wish really hard, you can convince yourself that your preferred policy might have worked better.

Posted by David Wright | September 15, 2008 1:34 PM

I agree with David, Dominic; you need to read way more government propaganda before coming to your conclusions.

This report proves one thing for certain: if crime drops because we arrest people who do drugs, then we are perfectly justified in restricting individual freedoms.

Posted by Chris in Tampa | September 15, 2008 1:53 PM

@7: i suspect that's ironic humor, but the "tampa" makes me unsure. awful lot of buckeye emigrants in tampa.

Posted by max solomon | September 15, 2008 2:01 PM

@ 1) I believe you are correct. However, the arrests for violent crimes has also decreased while arrest for pot smokers have increased.

@ 6) I'm being a little tongue in cheek here. Note the headline. But I do stand by the gist of this post: Pot busts are going up, when those law-enforcement resources should be directed to violent crime.

Posted by Dominic Holden | September 15, 2008 2:04 PM

If it makes the bitter pill of truth any easier to swallow, Dominic, I actually share your policy preference: I'd like to see drugs legalized. I just recognize that, even if drugs were legal, we would need to continue to lock up the 3% of our population that won't respect the life, liberty, and property of others.

Posted by David Wright | September 15, 2008 2:04 PM

! 10) Agreed, and we could lock up more of those assholes if we legalized pot.

Posted by Dominic Holden | September 15, 2008 2:15 PM

WTF does "forcible rape" mean? As opposed to "consensual rape"? "Ticklish rape"? "Friendly rape"? I don't get it.

Posted by Matt Fuckin' Hickey | September 15, 2008 2:39 PM

But guys, you're not thinking of how your policies would affect poor, working-class members of the Incarceration Industry!

"Sorry, Billy. Daddy can't buy you an iPhone for your birthday this year, because the government has decided not to lock up all the evil pot-smoking hippies anymore, and Daddy's for-profit penitentiary can't turn a decent margin just by locking up murderers, rapists, bank robbers, and psychopaths. So, you're just going to have to settle for one of the cheapo freebie phones Daddy gets with his family account."

Seriously, is that what you WANT to see happen?

IS it?


Posted by COMTE | September 15, 2008 2:42 PM

Yes, Dominic @ 11, agreed, in principle. But in practice I have a worry.

First, there is a lot of overlap between those two populations. While I'm sure you could find an annecdotal counter-example, the vast majority of those locked up for drug crimes are not upstanding members of their communities who happen to like to take the occasional private toke. The vast majority of them are people with few useful skills, poor impulse control, and little respect for others -- the kind of people that we agree are going to eventually need to be locked up.

Second, what if drug crime laws give us a way to identify, prosecute, and lock up those people before they go on burglary, assult, and murder sprees? If we wait for them to progress to these more serious crimes first, we are going to have some people burgled, assulted, and dead that we otherwise wouldn't have. This is kind of the idea behind "zero-tollerance policing": take some minor but easily observable thing that really doesn't need to be illegal, like jaywalking or public alcohol or drug consumption, and prosecute it mercilessly; the bad seed can't cope and get busted, the rest of us just buckle up and fly straight. You've sorted your population and no one had to get burgled, assulted, or murdered.

Either of these assumptions might be wrong, although I suspect there is some truth to both of them. In any case, there are questions of justice that arguably take precedence over my practical worries. But aren't you the least bit worried about the practical effect?

Posted by David Wright | September 15, 2008 3:07 PM

one would have to analyze whether pot smoking and other drugs give criminals the inclination to commit assault, robbery, and theft that they would not if sober. If so the case could be made that these crimes that could have been committed are not being committed because the would be criminals are in jale for drug convictions. Recreational pot users usually don't end up in jail. It is hard core mass consuming druggies that end up there.

Posted by Jomama | September 15, 2008 3:46 PM


Posted by idaho | September 15, 2008 6:47 PM

Cops get to keep assets for all drug arrests, so they do that instead of their jobs.

Arresting rapists and murderers just costs the county or city money.

Republican ideals in action.

Which, naturally, are BAD FOR AMERICA.

Posted by Will in Seattle | September 16, 2008 12:22 AM

@14; I think you are talking about ALL drug use, where the rest of us are talking about marijuana use. Yes, I agree that a great number of the criminal/ underclass use hard drugs [Cocaine, Herion, Meth, etc.], but the argument does not extend to those who use marijuanna. Are some marijuanna users criminals? Yes, but you can say the same thing about people who wear cotton shirts. Does it make sense to lock up people who use marijuanna for medical reasons? No. Does it make sense to lock-up people who use marijuanna as a substitute for alchohol? Again, I say no. I realize that you disagree, but a "No Tolerance" policy for marijuanna doesn't work [or at least it hasn't worked], costs a society more than it benefits and is [in my opinion] unethical. Let me bore you with the story of my aunt who starved to death because her cancer made her too sick to eat - marijuanna aliviated her symptoms enough that she could eat small portions. When she ran out of pot, she died, not of cancer, but from STARVATION. You watch a loved one go through that and then talk to me about "No Tolerance" policies.

Posted by Schweighsr | September 16, 2008 12:05 PM

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