Friday, November 25, 2005

Mom & Pop Drug War Profiteering

Jeff and Scarlett Bellingham, of Rogue Crew Investigations, are giving thanks today. Their Thanksgiving Eve raid on two Manitoba high schools turned up small bags of crystal meth and marijuana, ensuring that their mom and pop company stays in operation and their paychecks keep rolling in.

Jeff Bellingham retired from the police force about two years ago, and so did his drug-sniffing dog, Billy. Not satisfied with his pension, and with Billy most likely getting restless, Bellingham decided that he would go back into the business of drug war profiteering.

More and more high schools are selling out to private companies who make their livings off of exploiting us - our nation's youth. Many drug testing companies straight up lie about the effectiveness of drug testing, and other companies have been jumping on the drug-sniffing dog bandwagon, even though the accuracy of the dogs is often spotty.

All good entrepreneurs know that customers must be psychologically conditioned to think that they need a product before they buy it. And with billions of tax-payer dollars being funneled into the drug war, it is no surprise that private companies would exaggerate both the drug problem in schools and the efficacy of their solution. Everybody wants a piece of the drug war pie.

And it seems that Jeff and Scarlett have done such a great job of scaring the town of Manitoba, that parents have even begun to hire the company to search their own homes for drugs! But one year ago, when the Manitoba schools first decided to hire Rogue Crew to conduct drug searches instead of police, many school officials were concerned about the move, and one member of the Board of Trustees even outwardly opposed it.
"I am surprised this has taken place," Keith Thomas, risk manager for the Manitoba Association of School Trustees, said in an interview.

"It does beg the question whether the schools are handling this right if they do this without police. This is a criminal event."

MAST's Thomas has said in the past that schools should not use drug-detection dogs to root out narcotics.

"The best advice we've given principals, if you have strong suspicions about someone, you have the right to call in the Mounties or the city police," Thomas said. "I warn them, these are very treacherous waters.

"You don't do it on a whim. The parents need to be part and parcel of this, or you're going to be in trouble."
But Jeff Bellingham thinks he knows better:
"This is something trustees couldn't grasp," he said. "Schools have an obligation to provide a healthy, safe environment. I am not acting as an agent of the state. I am only doing what the school has asked me to do. Principals, teachers and students are in favour of this."
And now that Rogue Crew's drug search was successful, it's likely that support for his program will grow stronger.

The Drug War provides.

I wonder how the Brandon Police Department feels about all of this.
The drugs seized from Massey and Neelin were turned over to the Brandon Police Service drug squad early yesterday morning. Those officers are now investigating the matter, but so far no one has been charged.
I'm sure the Brandon Police Service drug squad is working overnight to find as many students as possible to fill their handcuffs and quotas. After all, there's only so much drug war money to go around, and thus far, the Bellinghams have been stealing the show.


Tom Angell said...

Thanks for posting this, Micah. IMO, the reform movement doesn't talk enough about the money-hungry bastards proliferating these punitive policies and profiting from them. (How's that for alliteration?)

From building prisons to selling drug testing kits (and beat the drug test kits), there are so many ways people make money off of these laws that ruin other people's lives.

What do folks think about the idea of picking a handful of companies that rake in the most drug war loot and trying to organize a boycott? I'm thinking along the lines of large corporations that get government contracts to provide services for federal agencies like DEA and ONDCP, but that also sell goods to everyday consumers. I saw an online list of large DEA contracts once, but I can't seem to find it now. Anyone know where to find that?

I know the boycott idea is extremely ambitious, but it could work...

Jason said...

Speaking of drug test kits:

Their main selling point is telling parents that their teens will be more confident in saying no because "my parents test me."

Tom Angell said...

I'd been to before, but not for awhile. Some of the video "testimonials" they have there are crazy! I kept asking myself "are these people for real?" Part of me thought that they must be actors. But I did a google search on two of the names, Jennifer Schwentker and Mark Livingston, and it looks like they're actually a teacher and a school board president. So now the question is, what's wrong with these people?

But I'm still skeptical that "David W." is an actual honest-to-goodness drug-free teen, and not an actor.

Jonthon said...

Perhaps I slept too much, and am cranky, but I am going to opt for a devil's advocacy position here...

While I am against the drug war in its entirety, and especially against private profiteering, I am also against youth drug use. That kids have drugs at school is a serious issue, and I see it as being left here unaddressed. What's more, it's not just that they found a little marijuana - they found crystal meth. As I am from the meth production, distribution, and usage capital of the US (Missouri), I'll state frankly that it's a scary drug, and not enough is being done to curtail it's production and use. I'm not calling for increased policing - we know that the cops don't have enough money or manpower to make an impact. The obvious answer is increased education, but if that comes in the form of a D.A.R.E. program, it won't work either.

So how do we keep meth out of kids' hands, and/or how do we justify our efforts to parents harboring these legitimate concerns?

I leave this question open to greater minds, and look forward to hearing your thoughts.

Tom Angell said...

So how many meth capitals of the US are there? MO, OR, IN, TX.... It's sweeping the nation ( hysteria, that is)!

Micah Daigle said...

I'm glad you brought this up, Jon. I was thinking of posing the question: "Would a sensible drug policy include drug-searches of school property?" but I got a little sidetracked on the issue of profiteering, and the post was already quite long.

First of all, I will admit that I am in no position to judge the danger of crystal-meth. I have never had personal experience with the drug, never studied it at length, and have only been exposed to the fear-instilling propaganda that's been thrown around for the past few years. From what I've heard, the substance is very addictive, and is toxic to the body if used heavily. (Of course, so is tobacco.)

I'm not arguing that crystal meth is not dangerous... but I'm simply stating that I refuse to jump on the "meth is terrible" bandwagon until I read some unbiased science-based information.

So let's--for the sake of argument--presume that crystal meth is very dangerous, and should not be used by anybody, especially children. What is the best way to deal with this substance in our schools?

Well, it seems reasonable that school administrators should want to search their building for dangerous substances, whether those substances be psychoactive, explosive, corrosive, etc. They not only have the right to do so, but they have the obligation to do so.

The questions I hoped to raise are:
1. Should people be allowed to make a profit off of drug-searches/drug-testing/etc?
2. What happens to students after drugs are found in these searches?

Currently, the Drug War has become so privatized that companies and police agencies are fighting for "turf", and students have been set aside as ammunition and collateral. If students are bringing dangerous drugs into schools, the root of that problem will never be ameliorated if private companies and police agencies are focused on generating paychecks and meeting quotas. In fact, the more drugs they find, the better off they are. And who would want to put themselves out of business???

Tom Angell said...

Micah said:
Well, it seems reasonable that school administrators should want to search their building for dangerous substances, whether those substances be psychoactive, explosive, corrosive, etc. They not only have the right to do so, but they have the obligation to do so.

It seems to me that Micah, for whatever reason, is making a concession to the anti-youth drug warriors here. Under what circumstances does Mr. Daigle advocate such searches? Does he support the large-scale random searches being carried out across the country right now, just as long as no one makes money off them? That, to me, is reprehensible and is quite a different thing from taking a look in little Johnny's locker after you have reasonable suspicion that he's doing drugs in school.

And another thing: If you support large-scale searches (for drugs, bombs, etc) in middle and high schools, would you mind if police brought drug dogs through your college's academic buildings while you were in class?

Is there an age at which you think young people suddenly earn freedom from the drug war's invasiveness?

jason said...

The issue here isn't about being for teen drug use. The issues are profiteering, and what kind of message are we sending to kids?

I was made aware of when a press release came into my job the other week, trying to get the nonprofit I work for to do a positive story about their product. (It was clearly a mass mailing.) In the PR, TMT's founder called "'just say no' one of the most effective anti-drug messages ever." It went on to insinuate that kids would thank their parents for testing them. And why? Of course, so they can sell those same parents home drug testing kits at 30 bucks a pop.

It's an absurd message that we know is way off base, and probably counterproductive. Rather than reinforce trust, this approach is likely to foster mistrust. And the same is true with the situation Micah expained in the original post.

When the Manitoba school district hired a private contractor to conduct police work without due process, and without rigorous debate in the community, they crossed the line. Meanwhile the company that performed the search was emboldened both by success, and its tidy profit.

Some SSDP'ers in Law School could probably explain better why this is legally sketchy. All I can say is that it's an action that rubs me the wrong way, and if I were a student in that school - it would make me feel like the administration was out to get us. And I'm sure that I'm not the only one who has seen alienation fuel seriously unhealthy relationships with drugs among my circle of friends. Bottom line is that a better approach to drugs means that this kind of approach has to stop.

Tom Angell said...

Hey Jason, what sort of nonprofit do you work for? Do you think they'd be interested in doing a positive story about SSDP and our issues?


Jason said...

National Council on Family Relations.

As a temp I read lightly, though have been slowly starting some conversations about drug policy. But I don't think they'd do a story - unless you know of an advanced degree candidate doing some serious research.

On the bright side I shredded TMT's pitch, as I do with all commercial "press releases" we get. :)

Micah Daigle said...

Touché, Mr. Angell. :-P

I was simply (and sloppily) pointing out that a high school has the right to search their own property, and the obligation to protect students. But, as Jason pointed out, part of protecting students is fostering an atmosphere of trust. Conducting baseless, sweeping searches of the school undermines this trust. Surely, all searches should be done on a case-by-case basis, and should be based on reasonable suspicion.

You also asked:
Is there an age at which you think young people suddenly earn freedom from the drug war's invasiveness?

You know, Tom, that I don't think an invasive drug war should exist at all. But I do think (and I know you do too) that there should be age limits on psychoactive drugs, just as there is an age limit on other potentially risky behavior, like driving or owning credit cards.

Like it or not, for 6 hours a day, high schools are charged with watching over people who do not have the same rights as adults. The majority of these teachers and administrators--even those in Manitoba--have the best intentions, and want to keep children safe by helping them to make good decisions. But they have been conned by drug war profiteerers to resort to counterproductive methods.

Our argument to them should not be based on the privacy rights of students, but rather the efficacy of invasive search methods. To be frank, the majority of teachers, parents, and administrators don't give a damn about the privacy of their children, especially if they believe that violating that privacy will keep their children safe. But if they can be convinced that it will only exacerbate the problem by instilling distrust and pushing the problem from sight, then they might begin to reevaluate their methods.

Joe Bartlett said...

Here's a legitimate question: if we're so concerned about making methamphetamine available to children, then why is it available to them by prescription? Desoxyn, an anti-ADHD drug prescribed primarily to children (6 and up), is nothing more than pharmaceutical grade meth. Again, the hypocrisy of the WOD rears its ugly head. On the one hand, meth is a dangerous menace that must be stopped at any cost; on the other, Ovation Pharma makes millions of dollars legally marketing it to kids as young as six. (The true danger of street meth, by the way, is not the meth itself; it's the impurities. And, of course, if users weren't forced to resort primarily to home-brewed batches to get their supply, such impurities wouldn't be an issue. The drug war fails us again!)

But that's all a bit off-topic, so I'll chime in a bit on the question of school searches. Jason draws an important distinction by separating the question of teen drug use from that of profiteering by drug testers and private search outfits like the Rogue Crew. These outfits are making money hand over fist by cashing in on drug war hysteria and offering a service that, as the article points out, doesn't even actually work to keep kids off of drugs.

Of course, if school teachers or administrators have legitimate reason to be concerned that somebody has brought something into their school that poses a real danger, then they ought to be able to call upon law enforcement for assistance in such cases. As far as the law is concerned, they have the right to do this in cases of suspected drug possession as well. But better solutions would be real, fact-based drug education (Jonathon correctly points out that D.A.R.E. doesn't qualify) and approaching suspected students individually, without rushing to get law enforcement (or privately-run wannabe law enforcement) involved. Most teens who experiment with drugs aren't bad kids, and trying to scare them straight with police, dogs and handcuffs isn't likely to help deter them if they truly are headed down a dangerous path toward abuse. Treating drug use as a criminal matter is no more likely to be an effective policy for teens than it is for the rest of us.

Personally, I'm torn on the issue of teen drug use. On the one hand I understand that teenagers, on the whole, may not be mature enough to make responsible choices about psychoactive drugs. On the other hand, though, I recognize that drinking alcohol and smoking pot are a sort of rite of passage for teens, and most are able to engage in those activities without damaging long-term consequences. One thing is clear, though: feeding our youth propaganda instead of real information only makes them less able to make good decisions.

kaptinemo said...

Please pardon an old duffer (I graduated from high school thirty years ago) for tossing in his tuppence, but I feel that a larger problem is looming in regards to the issue of fostering trust.

A nation whose children are taught that rights are fictions to be overturned at the whim - and profit! - of authority is a nation bound to reap a terrible social harvest. Because such children grow into adults who have been indoctrinated into the belief that such practices are normal and proper and therefore they discount theirs and other's rights, inviting fascism to take root where previously it found infertile soil. The threat this poses to this nation's already weakened hold on democracy, thanks to decades of DrugWarring, cannot be overemphasized.

I don't have to tell you members of the DARE Generation that it's not just the present testing hysteria which should concern those intent on preserving their dignity, but also the future of freedom in this country in general.

But it comes with more force when the 'products' of this attempt at social engineering (say, isn't that what the so-called 'conservatives' used to rail against the so-called 'liberals' about?) point out it's singular failure.

Tom Angell said...

Kaptinemo, you're right. (And no need for a pardon: everyone, young and less-young, is welcome here.)

Indeed, one of the main justifications for student drug testing we've heard is that these youngins' need to get prepared to enter the "real world" where they'll surely face piss testing as a condition for employment.

The idea is to get us used to it now so we won't have a problem with it later.