1999 the year in review:
New twists in the drug debate
Thomas Scott, the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of Florida, announces the results of Operation Sky Chef on Aug. 25, in which 58 employees and contract workers from American Airlines and other affiliated companies working at Miami International Airport were arrested for drug-smuggling.
At the same time that some of the nations top anti-drug warriors are coming to the conclusion that perhaps drug treatment and not mandatory minimum sentences is whats needed to solve the narcotics-equals-crime equation, researchers reported last year that prevention programs targeting adolescents a key element in the overall strategy to curb illicit drug use are having an impact that is fleeting at best, and could better be thought of as insurance policies against a future wave of abuse.
An Ounce of Prevention, A Pound of Uncertainty, a study released in May by the Rand Drug Policy Research Center, reported that a nationwide prevention program that would cover all 3.75 million children who reach the seventh grade in any one year could reduce the lifetime use of cocaine by 2 percent to 11 percent over decades. While no silver bullet, such a program would be extremely cost-efficient costing just 1.5 percent of the $40 billion spent annually on drug control, or about $550 million.
Using the National Household Survey of Drug Abuse, which finds that adolescents who use marijuana later in life are less likely to use cocaine, researchers were able to determine the percentage of cocaine consumption over the course of a lifetime. At this point, the results from even a unilateral prevention program in the schools would be modest and slow to develop, said the study. To reduce the number of cocaine users by 2.5 percent would take 10 years; to reduce that number by 5 percent would take 20 years; and it would take 40 years to achieve a 7.5-percent drop, according to the study.
At this stage, prevention cant play a decisive role, said Jonathan P. Caulkins, the studys lead author. It isnt the silver bullet everyone would like it to be. Still, school-based programs can play a worthwhile supportive role with respect to the current situation while providing a form of cheap insurance against any future epidemics.
While the Rand study looked at the groups own Project ALERT and the Life Skills Training Program (LSTP), both proven effective by formal evaluation when compared with average law enforcement and treatment programs, researchers at the University of Kentucky took yet another look at the effectiveness of the nations most popular prevention program, Drug Abuse Resistance Education (DARE).
Released in August, the study found DARE to have had little effect on teenagers use of drugs, cigarettes, alcohol, or their expectancies about these substances, 10 years after participation in the program as sixth-graders. Some 46 percent of the 1,000 students whom researchers tracked until the age of 20 said they had used marijuana at least once in the past year; 24 percent said they had used other drugs, including cocaine, at least once during that same period. Thirty percent of respondents reported using alcohol on a weekly basis in the previous 12 months.
Among the reasons why DAREs impact may be blunted, lead author Donald Lynam told Law Enforcement News, is that by targeting the program to reach all children, DARE may be losing the attention of those who are high-risk. It may be that if programs were designed to appeal to the higher-risk kids, rather than all kids in general, the message might get through better, he said.
DAREs zero-tolerance attitude may also seem disingenuous to teenagers, turning them off to the programs message, said Lynam. Another problem he sees with DARE is its presentation by police. For children who are the most at-risk, police may not be the most credible source of information, Lynam asserted.
The research was angrily disputed by DARE Americas founder and president, former Los Angeles deputy chief Glenn Levant, who called the study bogus. DARE is not a magic bullet, Levant conceded, but rather is part of the whole picture. Im very confident it helps, he said.
An integrated approach that includes treatment and diversion programs for low-level and first-time drug offenders is a key component of an overall strategy that will eventually sever the link between drug abuse and crime, stated Gen. Barry R. McCaffrey, the nations top drug-policy official.
Long an outspoken supporter of using alternatives to incarceration for nonviolent drug offenders, McCaffrey made his remarks before 900 law enforcement, prison and public health specialists who had gathered for a three-day assembly in December. With some 400,000 of the 1.8 million prison inmates nationwide having chronic drug or alcohol abuse problems, McCaffrey said failing to treat their underlying addictions simply defers the time when they are released back into our communities to start harming themselves and the larger society.
Earlier in the year, in remarks before another conference on criminal justice and substance abuse, McCaffrey said it was necessary to change the perception that treatment and alternative sentences were tactics soft on crime. Coerced abstinence, he said, was even more effective than voluntary treatment programs. McCaffrey also called for increased use of drug courts, in lieu of mandatory sentencing, which can tie judges hands too tightly, he said.
It is clear we cannot arrest our way out of the problem of chronic drug abuse and drug-driven crime, said the drug czar. Efforts, he said, must be refocused towards programs that will reduce both. We must build from these programs a system-wide approach to combating drug use throughout our entire criminal justice establishment. What is needed is smart drug policy linked to a flexible and rational criminal justice system.
To this end, he called for expanded treatment and diversion programs within the juvenile justice system. The earlier a drug user can be guided toward help, said McCaffrey, the more successful rehabilitation is likely to be. Such programs must become as commonplace for drug- and alcohol-addicted criminals as counseling and education programs are for drunk drivers. The greater the number of drug and alcohol abusing criminals we place in these programs, the larger the benefit will be to our society, he said.
1999 the year in review:
Come out with your hands up and your genes down
It may not be practical, but it probably is constitutionally permissible.
In a nutshell, that is the conclusion drawn by the National Commission on the Future of DNA Evidence, which was charged in early 1999 by Attorney General Janet Reno with researching the legality of establishing a national DNA database containing samples from everyone charged with a crime.
But while the Federal Government considered the big picture, casting a wide net that would include genetic samples from criminals other than just convicted sex offenders and other violent felons, it was individual states that took the lead in attempting to create more inclusive genetic sample banks:
On April 13, New York Gov. George Pataki proposed taking DNA samples from anyone arrested on a felony or attempted felony charge. New York City Police Commissioner Howard Safir said he would like to see Patakis plan include all arrestees.
A proposal by the North Carolina Senate would require everyone arrested for a felony to submit a DNA sample for inclusion in a state data bank.
Oregon lawmakers passed a bill that would allow the state to collect DNA samples from anyone convicted of a burglary and serious assault. Oregons database currently holds just information on sex offenders, with no exemption for juvenile offenders.
Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court came down on the side of the states needs over the right to privacy when it ruled that a DNA database could be opened to hold blood samples collected from convicted criminals.
Among the most innovative developments in the use of genetic evidence came out of Wisconsin in October, where Milwaukee prosecutors drew up the nations first DNA warrant to catch a serial rapist who was identified only by his genetic profile.
With a six-year statute of limitations rapidly running out, and 2,300 unexamined rape kits sitting in the Milwaukee Police Departments evidence room, detectives narrowed the total down to 53 cases so as not to overwhelm the state crime laboratory. They matched three of DNA profiles developed from the semen samples collected from victims in the kits to a convicted rapist in Minnesota and one in Wisconsin; the rest of the samples remain in the FBIs database. Although no match was found for the rapist, who is believed to have raped and kidnapped three women at knifepoint in 1993, the profile will be compared monthly with state and Federal DNA banks.
The statute of limitations has since run out on two of the serial rapists crimes, but by getting a judge to sign a warrant before time could run out on one committed on Nov. 9, 1993, charges may still be brought against the John Doe suspect if he were to be convicted of a new sexual assault.
While legal experts believe the case to have merit, it is sure to be challenged, they said. The law says that if a defendant is not named, he can be designated by any description by which he can be identified with reasonable certainty, said Ray DallOsto, chairman of the Wisconsin Bar Associations criminal law section. I think there is strong ground to challenge this from a defense view.
But Norman Gahn, an assistant district attorney for Milwaukee County, who is also a member of the national DNA commission, argued that using a genetic profile as an identifier far exceeds reasonable certainty. The probability of an unrelated, randomly selected individual matching all three samples is an estimated 1 in 1.75 billion in the United States Caucasian population and about 1 in 1.96 billion in the African-American population, said Dirk Janssen, the forensic science supervisor of the states crime lab.
Civil libertarians have generally been uneasy at the idea of extending DNA databases to include all arrestees, but resistance seemed to abate last year as an increasing number of incarcerated convicts have been released based on genetic profiles.
In Oklahoma, two prisoners, including one on death row, were released in April after DNA tests invalidated the evidence used to convict them. A man in East Walpole, Mass., was released one month after being arrested for the murder of a 75-year-old woman in December 1998 when a DNA report excluded him as a suspect. And in July, charges were dropped against a man arrested in the rape of a Salt Lake City woman and suspected in the slaying of another woman, after the state crime lab failed to match his DNA to biological evidence in the case.
Genetic profiling was also used by police on police in at least one case. In Paducah, Ky., Police Chief Kermit Perdew ordered his entire department to submit blood samples for DNA testing to identify whoever it was that sent four of the agencys 10 black officers the same hate mail in 1997.
Perdew sent three of the envelopes to a private lab to see if a DNA sample could be collected from the saliva used to seal them. The sample would be compared to genetic markers obtained from the forces 68 officers.
While the Louisville chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union believed that Perdews order set an ugly precedent, it could find no state or Federal laws to prohibit it.
By next year, police may even be able to use DNA information at the scene of the crime instead of waiting weeks for laboratory analysis. The National Institute of Justice announced that a DNA microchip currently used to help identify people at risk for certain diseases could be applied to police work. The forensic DNA chip will extract genetic information from biological evidence placed into an attached well and sealed with tamper-proof evidence tape. The chip will identify the genetic codes and relay those markers to a computer screen in an investigators car. A national data bank linked to the computer will search for possible matches with offenders whose genetic profiles are already indexed.