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              The Addict and the Law


                            By Alfred R. Lindesmith

                           Washington Post, 1961



                          Introduction | 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | 6 | 7 | 8 | 9 | 10  



In order to understand the full significance of the severe mandatory penalties now provided for narcotics law violators by federal law and the local legislation and police practices which frequently make the drug user a virtual outlaw, it is necessary to know something about the basic strategy used by the police in the attack upon the illicit traffic. Because narcotic offenses usually involve a transaction between a willing seller and a willing buyer, there is in a sense no “victim” involved-at any rate there is no one who will rush to the police to complain that he has been wronged. In order to make their way into the toils of the illicit traffic it is therefore necessary for the police to use artificial leverage of some sort to obtain information and evidence and to secure reluctant cooperation from participants in the traffic. This entree into the illegal distribution system is usually provided initially by addicts acting as informers or “special employees.” The effect of the heavy mandatory penalties is to give police and prosecutors enormous leverage in securing information and cooperation from addicts and in punishing those who do not cooperate.
To many persons it will seem that the uses to which addicts are put in the enforcement process involve a great deal of cruelty and even sadism on the part of police officers. Actually, this conclusion is unwarranted, for individual police officers often feel compassion for the addicts they arrest and treat them with as much consideration as they can. While there undoubtedly are occasional brutal and sadistic narcotics policemen, the crux of the matter is that it is the system that is cruel in its effects regardless of the disposition or inclinations of individual officers.


The police practice of using addicts as pawns in the effort to trap peddlers and as sources of information was frankly admitted by prosecutors and police officials before congressional subcommittees. In Chicago in particular Senator Price Daniel pressed officials for explanations of the extraordinarily large number of persons who were discharged after being arrested. The Chicago officials were thus compelled to explain that the high percentage of discharges was due to the fact that the arrests, usually of addicts, were Illegal and were largely for the purpose of securing information and recruiting informers.

Lt. Joseph J. Healy head of the narcotic bureau of the Chicago police department said, in a written statement:
19. In this same period the record shows 5,361 charges of chapter 193 – subsection 13 of the municipal code of Chicago which is the disorderly conduct chapter amended in 1951 to include known narcotic addict. It is only by, the arresting and detention of addicts and the subsequent judicious interrogation of these persons that the police gain information relative to the movements and methods as well as the identities of certain narcotics peddlers and pushers. This number comprises 70.2 Percent of the gross arrests.’

He explained police practices with regard to addicts as follows:

Lt. Healy … every time our men see these addicts on the street around, they bring them in. That is how we get our information on the peddlers, from the addicts.

Mr. Speer: You mean when you see an addict on the street, whether or not you suspect that he may have narcotics on him or in his possession, you arrest him and bring him in for interrogation?

Lt. Healy We do, unless he has a very good excuse for being at that certain point.2

Assistant State’s Attorney Peter Grosso commented further on the police practice of arresting addicts on sight:

… it is true that it is probably contemplated they will be discharged, but they do serve a purpose in having to be processed through our department, because we operate on a premise in order to catch a dope peddler you must have an addict. Before you catch a big, dope peddler, you have got to have a small one …. 3

Mr. John Gutknecht, former professor of law, the State’s Attorney indicated that this police tactic was illegal and appeared mildly troubled by the violation of civil rights involved:

Mr. Gutknecht: In view of my background as a law professor, I am very jealous of civil rights, civil rights of individuals. One of the things I determined when I got in here was that I was going to be particularly careful about that. I must say this to you, that where narcotic addicts are concerned, I haven’t many complaints, though I do know the police are a little prone to pick up these men. They have protection of an ordinance. and I must say that the problem is so serious that even if we must admit some of their civil laws or civil rights are being violated, you have to go along with a certain amount of the fringe violation, if you see what I mean.

Senator Daniel: Yes.

Mr. Gutknecht: So I think you will find that a lot of these arrests and subsequent discharges are in the form of a security measure that possibly we should not countenance, but I don’t know how else you can function.

Senator Daniel: You completely answered my next question. My next question was going to be this: How do you reconcile the large number of arrests for Chicago for the period 1953 and 1954, 6,643 with convictions, 3,350 just barely over fifty per cent of the arrests, and I believe you have answered it already.

Mr. Gutknecht: I think you will also have to agree that neither Mr. Tieken in his capacity nor I in my capacity – and we both have civil
rights laws to enforce-can, with our multiple jobs, get too excited if a known addict has been unlawfully arrested and then discharged, knowing that because he is a known addict the police have to take little extra measures.4
The policy of police harassment of drug users is extremely injurious and demoralizing in its effects upon the addicts. Indeed, it is probably more injurious to the addict’s health than is the taking of drugs itself. The policy of repeated arrests with brief periods of detention means that the user suffers deprivation symptoms while he is held and questioned. He earns his release by giving the police information or is routinely released if he cannot be charged with an offense. Since the period of detention is not ordinarily Ion(-, enough for withdrawal to be complete, there is no expectation that the released addict will abstain from immediate relapse. Repeated partial withdrawals of this sort in police lockups without medical attention are bound to have devastating effects upon the user’s health and morale. The expression, “murder on the installment plan,” might be more appropriately applied to this aspect of the present treatment of addicts than to any other.


Virtually all of the drugs used by American addicts are imported into this country from abroad. They arrive in relatively pure form and as they pass from the hands of one dealer to the next in the long chain of distribution which reaches from the importer to the ultimate consumer they are progressively diluted and progressively broken up into smaller and smaller units. Dilution at the lowest level is probably usually in excess of 90 percent and sometimes reaches 98 percent or more. It has been estimated that smuggled drugs may pass through as many as fifty or a hundred hands before they reach the user. In this hierarchy only the lower reaches are relatively well known. The higher echelons are obscured by lack of
information and by the fact that operations on this level are conducted by organized mobs directed by persons who are not addicts, who remain behind the scenes, and who employ others to act as their agents. For example, an ignorant seaman may be approached in a foreign country by a person unknown to him acting in behalf of someone else and offered a sum of money to smuggle a package with unrevealed contents into this country to be delivered at a given address to an individual who is also acting as an agent for persons unknown. If the persons directly involved in the transaction are apprehended they cannot help the police because they usually do not know who the behind the scenes directors of the operation are, and even if they do know they are not likely to talk because of the threat of death which the underworld mob holds over the informer. In these higher echelons there are ordinarily no addicts involved, because the underworld mobster knows that they are unreliable on account of the tremendous leverage which the police have in dealing with them.

J. Lombard, United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York, told the Price Daniel subcommittee about the higher branches of the traffic and the difficulties encountered in trying to get at the persons in the upper brackets:

I would like to suggest that we are dealing with 2 rather unusual crime, a rather unusual situation in this sense. The, narcotics traffic is run by people who operate on an international scale, and in this country on an interstate scale. They are professional criminals. They have lots of money. They have powerful allies. They have expert knowledge as to how to evade the law and to escape detection. They are not themselves addicts. In fact, they seldom handle any drugs. They have no bank accounts. They deal only in cash. Their errands are run by others. Their messengers do the transporting and the selling. In short they operate behind a shield of henchmen.

Now, to get evidence sufficient to convict a big operator, as you can see, is very difficult at best. As a rule, we get nowhere near the big operator when we simply arrest the pusher and the small dope peddler. We are just at the bottom of the ladder. There may be 9 or 10 rungs of the ladder before we get to the big dealer who has been responsible for the importation of the drug.5

Numerous other witnesses provided similar descriptions. State’s Attorney Gutknecht of Chicago graphically illustrated the difficulties in getting, information on upper level peddlers with the following account:

Last month I had two defendants that I had in my own office, talking to them, trying to get some information, with nobody else there, unrelated cases, a week apart. The wording was a little different but each one of those defendants, when I tried to get him to help in connection with pushers. the sellers, the higher ups, said to me, judge, what can you do. You can give me a couple of years. I have been there before. You can give me time. If I tell you and it gets out. I will be dead before the week is over.”6

Lt. T. F. McDermott of the Philadelphia police had a similar complaint:

We have tried everything that we know of to get everyone that was involved in this racket, whether they be white or colored, it didn’t make any difference. And it seems when we get to a certain level we arrest them, and if there is anybody above that level where we arrested Graves, they just stop, they refuse to tell us. Now, we believe there were some other people involved behind Graves, .Miles, and DeLoach. but after we talked to them about that they. just cut us off. We believe that they definitely had a white connection.

Senator Daniel: Were they, white men? Mr. McDermott: No, Negroes.7 It is a common observation in large northern cities that the persons in the top levels of the traffic are usually white mobsters, and that Negroes appear mainly in lower-level operations. In Chicago, and in other northern cities, the top peddlers are said to be mainly of Italian origin.

The following laconic item from a Chicago newspaper illustrates the hazards of the “stool pigeons” life and one of the ways in which peddlers protect themselves from such persons:

Virgel (Hound Dog) Wilber, 30, who had a record as a dope peddler and user, failed to appear before George B. Weiss in Felony Court yesterday on a narcotics charge. . . . Wilber’s body had been found earlier in the day- amidst overturned furniture in his third floor apartment at 1409 E. 66th St. He had been shot three times in the head with 45 caliber bullets. . . . Witnesses told police they heard shots just before a man fled from the building.
The Court Case grew out of the finding of $5,000 worth of cocaine and heroin Oct. 3 1 in Wilber’s apartment at 6443 Kenwood Ave. This raid was made after seizure of $500 worth of heroin in the apartment of James Miller, 31, of 4644 Prairie Ave., who identified Wilber to police as his supplier.”
The killing in this case was undoubtedly carried out by the peddler next in line above “Hound Dog” Wilber, who either knew, or feared, that Wilber would betray him to the police. Such a killing makes 2 great deal of sense when one considers that had he been detected as a narcotics peddler, the unknown drug peddler who murdered Wilber would undoubtedly have received an extremely severe sentence. On the other hand, it could be taken for granted that the Chicago police would not be too concerned over the death of “Hound Dog.” Even had the murderer been apprehended and convicted, the sentence might well have been little more severe, or even less severe, than for the narcotics offense.

The huge spread between the legal and the black market prices for drugs. or between the cost of illicit drugs abroad and their ultimate price in this country is the source of the profits which sustain the entire structure of the illicit traffic. While these profits accrue to peddlers and dealers at all levels, they are greatest at the upper levels, where operations are on 2 larger scale and are more stable because police intervention is difficult and rare. At the lowest level the addict-pusher turns his profits back into the traffic to keep him self supplied. Non addicted peddlers who sell to addict consumers are readily apprehended and, because of the heavy. penalties attached to drug law violations, this highly dangerous occupation is likely to attract mainly the ignorant, unsophisticated, or otherwise incompetent members of the criminal world. The large profits which some of these persons may obtain therefore usually, turn out to be very transitory or they are eaten up by, expenses involved in trying to stay- out of jail or prison.
The consequence which follows from this, which is of concern in evaluating the effects of enforcement, is that the major profits of the illegal drug trade are made by- one set of persons while the major risks are taken by other persons. In the aggregate, for ex-pushers and even addicts who are not pushers serve ample, addict proportionately- more time in prison than do the nonaddicted big dealers and smugglers. If this were not true the trade could not continue to exist. The addict performs an essential role in the drug traffic just as he does in the enforcement of the drug laws. The power of the habit, which makes it easy. for the police to extract information from the user, also makes it easy for addicts to be used to distribute drugs to fellow addicts. a task in which the risks of detection are at a maximum. With statistical information as bad as it is, the arrest and incarceration of addicts makes it possible for police officials to create the public illusion that the drug traffic is being severely dealt with, whereas, as a matter of fact, it is primarily. the victims of the traffic and the small fry who suffer the major punishment.

This point is widely, recognized and admitted even by. the police and hardly- needs documentation. If proof were needed one might note that it is generally conceded that it is the function of federal narcotic agents to handle the big dealer and smuggler cases, while the “retail” trade is dealt with by- the local police. The number of cases handled by- federal agents is very- small compared to those dealt with at lower levels, but even most of the federal cases involve only- minor peddlers. This is conclusively- demonstrated by the fact that around fifty per cent of federal drug lam. offenders are each year reported by the Federal Bureau of Prisons to be addicts. Wardens of penitentiaries are fully aware and often state that very few big operators in the illegal drug trade are entrusted to their care.

The illicit drug traffic has adapted itself so well to the measures taken against it by the police that despite the continuous flow of
difficult to find addicts who have had to go without drugs for more than a day or two because no supplies were available. The user usually knows of more than one possible source and, when the peddler he is dealing with goes to jail, simply switches to another. It seems, therefore, that the illegal drug trade at the lower levels, and probably the upper also, is not in the hands of a monopoly but is decentralized with many networks of distribution functioning independently of each other within the same area. The destruction of one of these networks merely diverts customers to those that remain.


Only rarely are the police able to break into the traffic at higher levels where there are no addicts. This usually occurs in one of these ways: 
(1) an undercover agent (a policeman) may work his way into the confidence of the underworld by posing as a criminal;
(2) a smuggling or distributing mob may tip off the police concerning a competing mob, especially if the competition is deemed to be unfair; and 
(3) a criminal facing serious charges may use his knowledge of the narcotic traffic to bargain for a lighter sentence for himself. 

None of these alternatives presents a dependable technique for getting at big dealers. The undercover agent, for example, must have considerable ability in order to deceive criminals and he must assume the risk of being killed, especially if he is not known to be a police officer and is suspected of being simply an informer.

There are relatively few good undercover detectives. Moreover. an undercover man cannot long remain unknown. An appearance in court, for example, is sufficient to reveal his identity and end his usefulness. The other two alternatives are of relatively little use because of the strong underworld taboo on informers and the merciless punishment that is meted out to them by the organized gangs.

Some of the police informers may be used only once while others may be used repeatedly for long periods of time and be moved about from one city to another. The police ordinarily try to keep the identity of their informants secret even from other informants and other policemen. They try to avoid the necessity of having them testify in court if they hope to make use of them in the future.

When the drug addict is used in “making a buy.” he is ordinarily first supposed to be searched by the police to make sure that he has no drugs in his possession. He is then supplied with marked money; i.e., bills of which the serial numbers are recorded (or which have been dusted with invisible powder) and he is then taken into the vicinity in which the peddler who is being sought is operating Remaining in the background, the police send the addict “stool pigeon” to the peddler with whom he is already acquainted. When the sale is completed, the addict informs the officers. who seek to arrest the peddler before he has disposed of the marked money. The drugs which the addict purchases are supposed to be turned over to police to be used, along with the marked money, as evidence in court. In practice, the “stool pigeon” often, perhaps usually, appropriates some of the evidence for his own use before he turns the remainder over to the police. He is expected to do this because this is part of his reward and a vital element in his motivation to engage in this unpopular and dangerous business.

In practice, the above account of making a buy is much oversimplified. The peddler is usually well aware of the standard practices of the police and seeks to thwart them by a -.vide variety of stratagems. Automobiles are frequently used, the collection of the money and the delivery of the drug may be handled as separate operations in different places by different persons, and precautions may be taken to dispose of the marked money before it can be recovered by the police. When complications of this kind occur, the police may have to depend upon the word of the “stool pigeon” as to what actually happened and they may have difficulty in proving the case in court. This is especially true because the word of an addict is highly suspect since his testimony is tainted by the fact that it is secured by means of threats of punishment and promises of reward In order to keep track of what the informer does and to provide independent corroboration of his testimony, the police try to observe the transaction if at all possible. Sometimes the informer is equipped with a wireless transmitter so that the police may listen in on his conversation with the peddler. Peddlers have learned of this practice and counteract it by requiring customers to disrobe to prove that they are not so equipped. To eliminate the possibility of selling drugs directly to a narcotic agent, many pushers refuse to have any business dealings with anyone who is not an addict and they may require proof of addiction from a new customer.

The expression “buy and bust” is used to describe the police practice of obtaining evidence against a peddler and then arresting him, often waiting to make the arrest when he has returned to his place of residence or perhaps to his automobile. In theory the police officer seeking entry is supposed to knock-, identify himself as a police officer, and ask admittance. In practice this procedure would give the culprit time to dispose of his drugs by flushing them down the toilet, for example. What the police therefore do is simply to batter down the door and rush into the room or apartment as quickly as possible to forestall actions of this kind. Search without warrant is legally permissible when a legitimate arrest is made. Hence, if a peddler is arrested in his home or in his automobile,  search of the automobile or of the premises may be made legally From these practices one can readily understand why the police sometimes jocularly describe the sledge hammer which is used to smash the door of the suspect’s residence as their “master key.”

It can readily be understood that it is important to the narcotics police to have a fund of money available with which to make buys and to pay stool pigeons. Some of the money used in the purchase of evidence is never recovered and if this fund is limited police tactics may be adapted to the idea of maximizing the probabilities of recovery. Also. should a large peddler be spotted, the police may be unable to raise enough money to make a buy from him. A police technique based on the assumption that most of the public money spent to purchase heroin as evidence will be lost is that of the so called “mass raid." New narcotic agents who are unknown in a given locality are provided with money to make purchases from peddlers over a period of time-perhaps several months. During this time the agents gain the confidence of underworld persons and quietly accumulate evidence and knowledge of the higher reaches of the local traffic. Then, on a prearranged date, the accumulated evidence is used at one time to arrest and convict a large number of persons, some of them perhaps being relatively important traffickers. The effect of this is said to be salutary since the roof seems to cave in suddenly for the peddlers and dealers. The disadvantages of the technique are the expense involved in diverting substantial funds into the traffic without hope of recovery. and the fact that undercover narcotic agents soon come to be known.


The narcotic “stool pigeon” differs from the ordinary informer in two important ways; namely, that he himself violates the law almost constantly while he works for the police by reason of the fact that he’ is an active addict, and that he not merely gives information but actively assists the police in trapping fellow addicts and peddlers. He is thus, in reality, an enforcement officer of sorts, and is ordinarily referred to officially as a “special employee.”

The “stool pigeon” is usually inducted into this activity by pressure of various sorts depending upon circumstances and the resistance offered. An inexperienced addict may give way at once when threatened with arrest, or in the face of a prison sentence and the promise that if he cooperates he will receive a short sentence, be placed on probation, or perhaps released. The police sometimes offer an addict leniency if he agrees to turn in one or more peddlers. The most effective reward of all is that the informer may be allowed to continue his habit, at least temporarily. Persons who show unusual ability may make informing a career and use it to maintain their habits over a period of years. Usually, however, the active career of the “stooly” is brief because he soon comes to be known.

When the utility of the addicted informer is at an end the police commonly get rid of him by sending him to jail or prison. It is often believed that under these circumstances the fear of underworld vengeance and a bad reputation in the underworld may provide the informer addict with incentives to avoid relapse. Addicts who have difficulty making a living and supporting their habits in the usual ways sometimes make nuisances of themselves with the police by insisting on trying to be informers when they do not have the needed skills and connections. These may be gotten rid of by "burning"-i.e., by permitting them to be seen in the company of a police officer in such a way as to expose them to the peddlers.

The most effective punishment used to induce addicts to talk and to cooperate is, of course, the withdrawal distress. This is frequently supplemented, depending upon the inclinations of the police officer, by all of the usual third-degree tactics. The low social status of the addict and his characteristic lack of means make the use of rough tactics relatively attractive and safe. Even if the user should appear in court-with injuries and bruises no one is likely to take his word for it that he was beaten by the police. The ordinary victim of third-degree practices is helpless enough in seeking remedies; the addict is even more so. The police characteristically deny that the suspect has been mistreated or assert that the obvious injuries and bruises were sustained as a consequence of resisting arrest or trying to escape. In view of the addict’s unusual vulnerability to police pressure it is small wonder that the narcotics police in some areas have estimated that fifty per cent or more of those arrested break down under pressure and agree to cooperate.

The manner in which charges are manipulated by prosecutors and police to reward informers was frequently indicated before congressional investigating committees. Mr. Anslinger. head of the Federal Narcotics Bureau, speaking to the Daniel subcommittee, noted with approval that Michigan had enacted a law requiring the imposition of a twenty-year sentence as a minimum for a first selling offense, and commented on the utility of this law in recruiting “stool pigeons”:

Now, if a man is arrested for trafficking, and he wants to avoid that 20-year penalty, there have been some 20-year penalties meted out there, he will find it to his credit to go to the enforcement officers and assist those officers in finding sources of supply, which is being done in a lot of cases in Detroit, and in some cases the charge then is changed from sale to possession.10

This was a recurring theme of law enforcement officers who testified before the Senate subcommittee. W. Wilson White, a Pennsylvania district attorney, commented that the narcotic laws were sufficiently flexible to permit informers to be rewarded:

The act is yet flexible enough that in the face of first offenders, as you know, there may be probation; in the case of informers. who are necessarily involved, probation can be quietly granted, and we do not run into difficulties there.”

It is of interest that while the Narcotics Control Act of 1956 was deliberately framed so as to restrict the discretion of judges it was thought necessary to maintain and even enlarge the discretion of the police and prosecution. The latter, as noted above, under the system of mandatory penalties now in effect, can reduce charges, place on probation or simply not prosecute at all, thus taking over from the judges the effective power to fix sentences.

The subcommittee noted that big illicit operators use as their representatives persons who have not been previously convicted of a narcotic charge. It was illogically suggested that this practice could be remedied by increasing penalties for first offenders; in other words, to deter Mr. X, whom we cannot catch, let us punish Mr. A, whom we can catch. The real purpose, or at least a more important and more logical one, is indicated by the comment of Illinois State’s Attorney John Gutknecht:

That is an additional help we will gain from this because if every one of these first offenders knows they are going to jail unless they can buy. immunity I will put it that crudely; we never promise immunity in other words we get a lot of people, weak ones that offer to put somebody else on the spot knowing that if they do it they may get some help from us. That is a racket they indulge in.

But anytime I can get a real first offender to turn up somebody good higher up in this nefarious practice, I will take the responsibility, once -we let the other fellow, of going before the court and saving, “This man put his finger on and helped us get a real conviction here. In the interest of justice I think we should have a nolle prosse."12

The use of addict “stool pigeons” is so common that it is sometimes an embarrassment to the police. It tends to create a class of lam. violator who is to a degree and for varying periods of time exempt from the penalties of the law. Because of the secrecy shrouding the informer, the police sometimes arrest each other’s -stool pigeons and the latter sometimes try to make buys from each other. Arrested addicts sometimes indignantly ask to be released on the grounds that they are working for the police.

Professional informers are hated and mistrusted persons and are often of the lowest and must untrustworthy character. They do not trust each other, the police for whom they work, or anyone else, and in turn are trusted by no one, least of all perhaps by the police who use them. They are primarily. interested, directly or indirectly, in the drugs which support their habit and which are their reward, and in avoiding punishment. The desperate informer who is being paid for the cases he makes is not likely v to hesitate to commit perjury., to “frame—another addict, or to make a false identification if that is required of him. The police in turn often commit perjury to – corroborate the informer’s testimony, to conceal the fact that they are or have been providing him with drugs, and in general to cover up the many unpleasant and illegal aspects of this type of law enforcement.

The minor offender who is compelled to give information is fully aware of the personal danger that this may- entail. and he is caught in a very- painful dilemma. If he refuses to cooperate he is denied drugs and may be handled roughly and have “the book thrown at him” in court. if he agrees to act as informer he has the underworld vengeance to consider. A wax out of this dilemma is to betray. those who have the least power to retaliate. Thus an addict may turn in other addicts. or he may reveal the identity of minor individual peddlers and conceal the names of those whom he fears.
Instead of turning in higher sources of supply a peddler may turn over his customers to the police. Since the narcotics detective is usually interested in getting the big offenders. the informer may try to convince him of the importance of the persons he betrays and will often portray as pushers persons who he knows are mere users. If the detective does not know too much about who is who in the traffic, and if he is having a hard time making cases, he may be easily convinced. Once the arrests are made it is in the detective interest also to exaggerate the culprit’s importance, and to overstate the amount and value of whatever drugs are seized. As a consequence, newspaper accounts regularly exaggerate the significance of the countless “dope rings” that are broken up by the police.

In earlier years narcotics agents openly doled out daily rations of drugs to informers, thus operating what might be called a kind of “clinic system” of their own. Reducing or withholding the rations was a stimulus to keep the informer busy. In those early days the penalties for violators and for informers were milder than at present and drug peddlers were less vary. It was considered reasonably smart, for example, for peddlers to plant a spy to note who was getting rations at the police clinic. All of this would be considered extremely elementary today; narcotics agents and detectives no longer dole out drugs as openly, and directly-, nor arc informers dealt with as crudely.

Drugs are still being handed to addict-informers by individual detectives who do not tell their superiors about it. The latter undoubtedly often know that this is done, but they officially disapprove of it, deny its occurrence. and refrain from seeking information about it. Drugs are provided to the informer by discreet and indirect methods such as allowing , him to appropriate some of the evidence or authorizing a doctor to write prescriptions for him. In some instances informers peddle the drugs so obtained to supplement the pay they- receive from the government. It is said that some peddlers just across the border in Mexico sell drugs to customers from the United States, betray them to the American authorities and then collect rewards when the American peddlers or addicts are arrested upon recrossing the border – thus obtaining a double income from the same transaction.


‘When there is little public excitement or newspaper publicity about the “dope menace’* the police do not exert themselves to arrest and imprison all of the addicts and small peddlers known to them. Instead, they use these persons as sources of information to lead them to the higher sources of supply. Dope drives arc ordinarily public relations enterprises designed to appease an aroused public or to impress legislatures. They are to a considerable extent self-defeating when viewed from the standpoint of law enforcement, because they usually result in the rounding up of many addicts and minor offenders most of whom are held briefly and re leased while a few are sent to jail. This has the effect of disrupting police lines of attack upon the higher bracket peddlers. who arc untouched by the drive, are probably safer from arrest than he fore, and whose profits are increased by the higher prices which drives produce.

Conscientious police officers in the narcotics field know that arresting numerous street addicts does not significantly touch the traffic, and they are inclined to be contemptuous of it. They arc interested, not simply in making arrests. but in making important ones, that is, of relatively big dealers. As a practical matter of police administration, however, a compromise of some sort must be made between a policy of arresting many unimportant offenders and one of arresting fewer but more important law violators. The “few but important” argument may obviously’ be used as a cover up by an incompetent or lazy officer. Since officers often appear in court on their own time or for minimum pay, it is understandable that they may be reluctant to make too many arrests. A “quota system” I, sometimes used to deal with this problem and is said to have beer used by, the more than two-hundred-man narcotics squad of New York City. This system requires a certain minimum number of arrests per month per detective-allegedly six-for a time in New York.

In 1959 this system came under attack in New York. The following article by Barbara Yuncker in the New York Post of July 1959, gives revealing information concerning it:

The policy of setting quotas for narcotics arrests came under new attack today by the former head of the Federal Bureau of Narcotic, for the New York area.

James C. Ryan, district Supervisor until last year told The Post that main reason for his having retired at the age of 50 was that he and his 65 man office were being “crowded to produce more arrests,” without per regard to the importance of those arrested.


This alleged pressure is similar to that of the quota system which they recently disclosed was causing grave morale problems in the Police Dept’s 200-man Narcotics Squad.

Samuel Levine, acting district supervisor for the Federal Bureau of Narcotics, denied his agency had a quota system.

“Our directive,” he said, “is to concentrate on the major traffickers.” Ryan laid the pressure he experienced to “officials in Washington” and indicated he feared such a policy could result in the arrest mainly users and pushers instead of suppliers.

“We were arresting top violators and developing as many cases as we could,” he said. “They wanted more arrests. You can figure out in that what kind of arrests they would be.”

This attitude. he said, was bound to hamper slow-developing undercover work leading to significant arrests. It is his belief that all top racketeers are involved in narcotics.


‘To the best of his knowledge high-arrest pressure is still on, he said. Ryan emphasized that he had no quarrel with longtime Narcotics Commissioner Anslinger. He attributed the high-arrest philosophy to the second or third echelon of the bureau. Arrest totals, Ryan said, are no standard of effective control. “If you get one important case a year, you’re doing a good job,” he added.


City Narcotics Squad detectives have privately expressed the same attitude However, under department pressure, none of them is willing be quoted. They were given the alternative of living with the quota system of six arrests a month or being sent back to the uniformed force.

Perhaps the opinions expressed by Mr. Ryan in the New York Post article were based upon incidents of the type in which he involved in 1952 when the Federal Narcotic Bureau staged a national crackdown during which about five hundred persons e seized. Since this national drive provides an extraordinarily good illustration of the real nature and purposes of such police enterprises it is worthwhile to notice how it was staged and what the bag actually amounted to.

At 5:15 P.M. on January 4, 1952, Harry J. Anslinger, U.S. Commissioner of Narcotics, announced a series of dawn to dusk narcotics raids in cities throughout the nation, at a Washington news conference.” The raids were aimed primarily, he said, at second and third offenders among peddlers in the teen age trade and would result in “a sharp reduction in drug addiction particularly among teenagers.” He said, further, that these raids would take hardened narcotics dealers out of the trade for a long time and that the groundwork for indictments against some outstandingly "large scale racketeers” was being laid. Important underworld characters were allegedly seized. He would not estimate how much public money had been spent to buy narcotics as evidence but Said, “it was mighty high. That heroin is getting to be worth one hundred times its weight in gold and that’s what we have to pay for it.” Mr. Anslinger went on: “Most of those arrested are dangerous fellows. The fact they’re facing from five to twenty years in jail makes them the most dangerous we’ve gone against yet. We knew that all along and if there was any shooting to be done our men were the ones who were going to do it.”

The largest number of arrests (58) in any city occurred in New York under Mr. James C. Ryan. The same issue of the New York Times which carried Mr. Anslinger’s version of the drive also carried a detailed story of the catch in New York, a city which is generally conceded to be 2 bastion of the illicit traffic and the home town of many of the most important racketeers in the trade Nevertheless the New York Catch evidently did not include a single even moderately important peddler and consisted in par merely of users, as the following quotes from the Times article indicate:

Some of those arrested, it was stated, were. “important,” but prisoners did not include members of an organized ring. Those seized were said rather to have been “loosely interlocked”. . . There were some seizures of narcotics, but no large ones…. United States Marshal William A. Carroll said that a number of prisoners, including some of the twelve women arrested, fell to the floor of their cells and gave other evidence of suffering from deprivation of drugs.

In comment on the raids Mr. Ryan observed: “Perhaps we didn’t get any international peddlers, but that’s because the big shots are much too smart to contact teenagers.” Forty-eight of the prisoners … were arraigned late yesterday afternoon…. The women were held in $1,000 bail each, the men in $3,000 each, with the exception of one whose bail was set at $1,500.

Concerning the fixing of bail it should be noted that for an important peddler bail is never fixed as low as $3,000 and would rarely be low as $5,000. This item alone indicates that the New York raids netted, not a collection of sharks as the screaming headlines and the Washington handout suggested, but only a haul of minnows. In making this haul, Mr. Ryan stated that more than $ 10,000 had been spent in making buys.

From the standpoint of law enforcement arrests ought to be made when sufficient evidence to convict is at hand, and not on 2 specific prearranged date. To schedule arrests for a specific time, as ,was done, is itself an indication that the whole affair was motivated by political and publicity considerations. In 1951 the Congress enacted the Boggs Bill, which sharply increased penalties for narcotics offenders. It also greatly enlarged the budget of the Federal Narcotics Bureau, authorized the employment of more agents, and provided more money to be used to purchase illicit drugs as evidence. Public concern over juvenile addiction was at a fever pitch at that time and the police were being blamed for it by some. Federal narcotics officials had generally discounted this problem, arguing that the extent of such addiction was being greatly exaggerated. Nevertheless, the drive was said to have been aimed at this teen-age problem. It thus served, not only to justify the Narcotics Bureau in the eyes of Congress, but also to appease and quiet a worried public.

To exemplify the important type of narcotics case which is usually absent during drives, as well as to demonstrate the level at which bail is set in such cases, a news item out of Indianapolis on April 16, 1 1960 may be considered:

Federal and City narcotics agents broke down the door of an Indianapolis apartment Friday and arrested a man and a woman described as top figures in international dope peddling, Jeremiah Hope Pullings, 41, and Delores Keeby, 28, who posed as his wife, were held for bonds of $65,000 each….

Edward Cass, federal narcotics agent, said the two were among the more important of 18 persons, including three Chicago narcotics detectives, who were indicted last September on charges of illegal drug sales, importation, and conspiracy. . . .

Pullings has been linked with the Chicago police scandal, agents said. and was thought to have used two policemen as narcotics couriers.”
Doubt is cast upon the alleged importance of these persons by the fact-that evidence seized in their apartment indicated that they had personally handled drugs. It is generally said that big shots have others do this for them.

Apart from the high bail, the case has other interesting features. such as the allegation that three narcotics detectives from Chicago were involved in the ring. The “buy and bust” technique which it illustrates is standard, although it evidently failed in this case because Pullings locked himself in the bathroom and appeared to have disposed of his drug supply before the second door could be battered down. The police assertion that the door to the apartment was smashed because they were refused entry is also standard.

Public demand for dope drives often develops from newspaper publicity or from merchants who complain of the losses which addicts cause them. The drive which is supposed to appease the ,merchants and quiet the public does so primarily through the publicity which it is given. In actuality the police of large cities like -Chicago and New York cannot round up a sufficient proportion of the users to make much difference, and if all users could be apprehended and convicted there would be no place to send them. Dope drives from an economic viewpoint, might be expected to reduce the demand for drugs if significant numbers of users were sent to jail. Under these circumstances illicit prices would be expected to drop. In practice the effect is the opposite; illicit prices rise during drives and the predatory activities of addicts who remain at large are stepped up proportionately.
The police ordinarily interpret a rising arrest rate as evidence of increased police efficiency and a determination to stamp out the ,problem. A declining arrest race, on the other hand, is cited as evidence that addiction is declining and that the police have things under control. Another index used to demonstrate police effectiveness is the price of the drug and the degree of dilution, a high price and heavy dilution being regarded as evidence of a scarcity ,of drugs. Prices are always said to be rising and dilution increasing, but the same claim is made year after year, decade after decade. It is true that illicit prices have risen, but it is not clear how much of this rise reflects inflation. The figures published by the Federal Narcotics Bureau in its annual reports do not justify the perennial claims that are made concerning dilution.

The incarceration of drug addicts is usually justified on the ground that it prevents them from stealing and from spreading the habit. While it is true that an addict cannot steal while he is in jail, -it is erroneous to suppose that the drug habit is not spread within prisons and jails. In greater or smaller quantity, drugs are probably smuggled into virtually all of our penal institutions, and there the intimate association of addicts and non addicts encourages the spread of addiction.

Among the more bizarre reasons sometimes given for locking up drug users are that they are thus protected from peddlers, and the suggestion, submitted by the former United States Commissioner of Narcotics, that locking up addicts is an effective way of undermining the peddler’s business by depriving him of his customers.

From the practical standpoint it is fundamental that a business, legal or illegal, would be bound to fail if deprived of customers, and the peddler of narcotic drugs is no exception. If the peddler were deprived of a market for his illegal wares, he would cease to exist. As long a, the addict is at liberty to come and go, the peddler has a steady customer. When the addict is institutionalized he not only loses his value to the peddler but he is also prevented from contaminating others.”


Because of the drug user’s low social standing, vulnerability to arrest, and reputation for unreliability he would be an excellent source of graft for dishonest policemen if he had money. Since he ordinarily has no funds and few possessions, his usefulness in this respect is confined to helping the police to trap peddlers, who often do have funds and possessions which may be acquired with relative impunity. It is often reported that peddlers offer bribes to arresting officers and one can only guess that there are other unreported bribes which are offered and accepted. When the door of the drug seller’s room or apartment has been battered down and he has been taken away, the police state that the premises are frequently looted by unknown persons. Actually, these “unknown persons” are sometimes the police themselves. If the peddler accepts goods in exchange for drugs, his quarters may contain articles stolen by addicts and bartered for heroin. These articles, as well as the personal possessions of the arrested peddler, offer substantial attractions for policemen who are not above the temptations of easy money gain is, of the greatest potential source of illicit monetary course, from seized supplies of drugs if they can be turned back into illicit channels. Because of the policeman’s contacts with addicts and peddlers who act as stool pigeons for him, it is comparatively simple for such matters to be arranged. In view, of the poor pay, low standards, and low morale which characterize many of the municipal police forces in this country, it is unreasonable to suppose that all of the drugs seized from peddlers are simply destroyed. Besides their monetary value, they provide the logical and most economical means of rewarding informers. The Chicago newspapers have reported that members of the narcotics squad in that city frequently have had to use their own personal funds to make buys from peddlers. It would be naive to suppose that money so spent is not recovered.

Some of the more direct techniques used to make law enforcement profitable may be illustrated by a hypothetical instance which will be described as though it actually occurred.

A police informer made a purchase from a Spanish-speaking heroin peddler who was also an addict. Following the “buy and bust” method four members of the narcotics squad suddenly burst into the seller’s apartment by battering down the back door. In the apartment were found the peddler and his wife, their three children, and some other adults. All of the adults were shackled together and forced to sit on the floor. The peddler was slapped, and one of the adults was struck with a pistol for speaking in Spanish.

The noise and confusion frightened the children and aroused the neighbors who came to see what was going on. Some of the neighbors were allowed to take the children away, The apartment was searched for drugs and a quantity of heroin was found, There were also various articles such as wrist watches, portable radios, jewelry, and other items which had apparently been accepted in payment for drugs. These articles, and other items which were the personal possessions of the peddler and his wife such as clothes and two dish cloths worth about ten cents each, were sorted into piles by the officers. Two officers took the suspects to the police lockup. while the other two staved behind and carried off all the goods that had been sorted out. No receipt was given. The police said that the articles appeared to have been stolen and would have to be checked. It was later denied that any goods had been removed anti suggested that looters may have entered the apartment. None of the goods was recovered or heard of again.
When the peddler was arrested he had about one hundred dollars on his person, including ten dollars of marked money which had been given him by the informer. This ten dollars was taken by the police and a receipt was given for the remaining ninety. In the police lockup he was approached by a bailiff, asked if he had any money, and advised to get a lawyer. The bailiff put the defendant in touch with a lawyer and the latter stated that from $500 to $600 would be required for a defense. The defendant thereupon turned over the ninety dollars as a preliminary payment. The lawyer later
visited the peddler’s wife and informed her that the defense would cost about $ 1,500 She sold the family automobile, almost the only remaining property of any value, gave the lawyer the $100 that she obtained for it, and then went on relief with her three children.

When complaints were made and the case attracted outside attention, various witnesses were offered threats and inducements to retract their charges or to keep quiet. It was pointed out that even if the charges were true the person involved was, after all. only a dark-skinned, Spanish-speaking heroin peddler who deserved nothing better, suggesting that the unusual feature of this Case was not what was done but that it attracted attention. The peddler was offered an opportunity to “cop a plea” and receive a light sentence if he would agree to induce his wife to drop her
charges against the police. When the case appeared in court and it was proposed to dismiss the lawyer originally recommended to the suspect by the bailiff at the police station, the arresting officers sought to exert pressure to prevent this. This suggests that part of the lawyer’s fee, for which he did next to nothing was turned back to the police.


The basic reason for ;he evident ineffectiveness of police tactics is that they do not ordinarily reach the real culprits – those who make the big money from the traffic. The stool-pigeon technique is ideally adapted to catching expendable addicts and small peddlers; in the nature of the case it is relatively ineffective in trapping the kingpins. The alleged leniency of judges and the present severity of penalties are both irrelevant, for the offender cannot be punished until he has been apprehended. The central unsolved problem is that of identifying and preparing a case against the important offenders. Increased penalties, limited judicial discretion, and the denial of probation and parole do not contribute to this end; indeed, they probably make it more difficult to get at the key figures ‘by causing them to be more cautious. While present police tactics are filling jails and prisons with relatively minor narcotic offenders, the illicit traffic shows no signs of drying up and is, in fact, probably more profitable than ever for the higher-ups.
Cops-and -robbers stories pertaining to the dope traffic with which the public is regaled distract attention from a fundamental economic dilemma which nullifies enforcement efforts. The illicit narcotics traffic is a business activity in which the customary economic factors, such as those of supply, demand, cost, risk, and so on, operate as they do in other businesses. Enforcement operations directed at illicit dealers in narcotics tend to reduce available supplies, increase risks, and increase the prices paid by consumers. Increased prices mean increased profits for the operators who know the ropes and are able to avoid police detection. Clearly if police activities were to frighten prospective criminal entrepreneurs from entering this racket the effect would be to produce a relative scarcity of drugs and increased profits, which. in turn, would tend to counterbalance the increased risk. Under these circumstances it is inconceivable that the illicit traffic in narcotics could be wiped out by police action unless something were done to eliminate or greatly reduce the demand for illicit drugs.

The effective demand for illicit narcotics, obviously comes from the addict. To reduce the demand it is necessary to take the addict out of the market
(a) by curing him of his craving, 
(b) by locking him up in establishments to which peddlers do not have access, or
(c) by providing him with access to legal drugs. 
It is fair to say on the basis of presently available evidence that the only one of these three alternatives that has been successful anywhere in minimizing illicit operations has been the third, but from all indications, if there is to be a new program in this country in the near future. It will be based upon the first two of the above alternatives and will reject the third.

                Introduction | 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | 6 | 7 | 8 | 9 | 10  


1. Illicit Narcotics Traffic: Hearings before the Subcommittee on Improvements in the Federal Criminal Code of the Committee on the judiciary, US. Senate, 84th Cong., 1st sess., pursuant to S. Res. 67, Causes and Treatment of Drug Addiction (Washington, D.C.: U.S. Government Printing Office, 1955-1956), Part 9, p. 4193. Hereafter referred to as Daniel Subcommittee Hearings.
2. Ibid., p. 4195 3. Ibid., p. 4297.
4. Ibid., PP- 4295-96
5. Ibid., Part 3, P. 718.
6. Ibid., Part 9, P. 4309,
7. Ibid., Part 2, p. 3 70.
8. Chicago Tribune, Feb, 9,1957, Part 1, p. 9.
9. Daniel Subcommittee Hearings, Part 2, pp. 387-41
10. Ibid., Part 1, p. 60.
11. Ibid., Part 2, p. 5 2 3. Z. Ibid., Part 9, P. 4311 13. New York Times, Jan. 5,1952, P. I.
14. Louisville Courier-journal, April 16, 1960, Sec. 2, p. 1.
15. H. 1. Anslinger and W. F. Tompkins, The Traffic in Narcotics, p. j61.