12/30/16 Art Acevedo

Art Acevedo, Houston's new Police Chief joins us for the full half hour to discuss forthcoming changes on Jan 1 to drug law enforcement in our nations 4th largest city

Program: 
Cultural Baggage Radio Show
Date: 
Friday, December 30, 2016
Guest: 
Art Acevedo
Organization: 
Police Chief
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CULTURAL BAGGAGE

DECEMBER 30, 2016

TRANSCRIPT

MUSIC: Pfizer and Merck kill more of us
Than the cartels crap ever could
They thank us for our silence
Each year’s hundred billion dollars
And the chance to do it forever more
Drugs... the first eternal war

DEAN BECKER: This is Dean Becker. Thanks for being with us on this edition of Cultural Baggage. I urge you to please share this show with everybody.

You know, I first want to just offer congratulations to our next guest. He has been selected to be the new police chief of Houston, Texas, our nation's fourth largest city, and with that, I want to welcome Police Chief Art Acevedo. Hello, sir.

HOUSTON POLICE CHIEF ART ACEVEDO: Hey, good morning, how are you this morning?

DEAN BECKER: Oh, I'm good, I'm thrilled to know that you are replacing our former chief, Charles A. McClelland. I thought he was a good guy, and from what I'm hearing, you're going to be right up there with him.

ART ACEVEDO: Well, I hope so, I mean, Chuck's a great guy, he's a friend, actually we're going to go to dinner tonight, so we can, I can pick his brain. Love the man. It is big shoes to fill, but I think I'm up for the task.

DEAN BECKER: Yes, sir. Now, you know, like I said, the fourth largest, and at the rate folks are killing each other in Chicago, we may overtake that position here soon. And, I know it's not all drug related murders, but it's revenge, it's gangs, it's just a vicious cycle, isn't it, sir?

ART ACEVEDO: Yeah, I mean, you know, gangs are an issue in any big city in this country, you know, Houston's not immune to it. I don't think we're going to -- thank god I don't think we're going to overtake Chicago anytime soon. It's just sickening, when you see what's happening in that city, where, you know, 63, seventy people are being shot in a weekend, which is just insanity. You'd think you're in Baghdad or something. And I'm grateful that although we have some challenges here, we're not close yet. So, let's hope we don't get there.

DEAN BECKER: And, I'm with you, chief. I see it as, you know, a measure of the sanity, perhaps, of our city, of our former police chief, and others, that we're walking away from the more draconian drug war state. We're using a little logic and common sense, right?

ART ACEVEDO: I think we have to, you know. One of the things I'm very proud of, I'm the first vice president of the Major City Chiefs Association, which is the organization that represents police chiefs from the biggest cities in the country, about the 63rd largest cities in the country, in this country, and from Canada and other parts of the world. And we actually have taken the lead in wanting to push for sentencing reform. You know, when you have people that didn't commit any violent crime, that are doing 30, 40 years, 20 years in prison, for drugs, it's just, you know, it's not really a good use of jail space, of prison space, especially when it's costly.

And, you know, I'm proud of the fact that, you know, as an immigrant that came here in 1968 with my parents, that a month and a half, two months ago, I found myself in the Roosevelt Room with President Obama, representing my profession, talking about sentencing reform for nonviolent drug offenders. And, you know, making it real clear to the President that we absolutely believe in that, that we want to push for it, but not just at the federal level, but at the state level as well.

DEAN BECKER: You know, and the President has taken good heed to your advice, I think. He has now set the record for the most clemencies and shortening of sentences, etc., for folks.

ART ACEVEDO: Yeah, I mean, if you think about a person in their mid-60s, pushing 70, that's in prison for drug, you know, drug dealing, that never committed any violent act, it's just -- it just doesn't make sense. And, you know, I've always said that the drug war is not a policing issue, it's really, if you think about it, it's really a foreign policy issue, it's really a national security issue, because a lot of the drugs are, we know where they're being manufactured, we know where they're coming from. You know, China's, now synthetic Kush is coming from China, you know, it's coming from Mexico. And so it's, you know, you've got to go to the source if you really want to eradicate it or really impact it, and you're not going to do it here.

And then the other thing is, you know, I'm talking about cite and release, so you know we have a mayor in Mayor Turner that, he's this transformative man, one of the things that called me here was the desire to really work for a mayor, and a council, that's very supportive. Across the board, liberal, you know, progressive liberal to the left, to conservative to the right. They really have a singular focus, I believe, and from what I've seen so far, in making Houston safe, and in ensuring that we're being smart on how we police in this city.

DEAN BECKER: Yes, sir. Now, you mentioned, vice president of the international police association?

ART ACEVEDO: Major City Chiefs Association, which is the largest, represents the police chiefs from the largest cities in the country.

DEAN BECKER: It reminds me, it was just about two years, two weeks ago that your predecessor, Charles McClelland, came in studio here and declared the drug war to be a miserable failure. That night, NBC carried the audio, that Sunday Fox carried it. All in agreeing. Six times, the Houston Chronicle has quoted from that interview. And, it's catching on, I guess, the idea that we've just overdone it. Your thought there, sir.

ART ACEVEDO: Yeah, I mean, we've put a lot of resources into it. I separate the, our efforts against, combating drug trafficking, I separate it between those that are just users, you know, we've got to get them treatment, we've got to get them help to try to kick the habit.

DEAN BECKER: Yes sir.

ART ACEVEDO: You know, but for their, you know, but for god, you know, whatever the old saying is, you know, it is, it's something that can happen to anybody, to have a family member that gets addicted, a friend, a child, and we just have to, I think, a little bit more pragmatic, and, you know, we need more treatment, not putting those people in jail.

Now, for those that are involved in the violence of the drug trade, that's who I want to focus on. I want to focus on the people that are the big movers and shakers that are poisoning young people. You know, a lot of people don't realize that the way they get kids hooked is that they'll give them dope free at first, and then once they get hooked, it's like, okeh, now you've got to prostitute yourself, you've got to steal, you've got to do whatever it takes.

And so let's focus on the bigwigs and not on, you know -- and the people committing violence, and not on the people that are addicted. We need to get them help.

DEAN BECKER: Yes, sir. I appreciate that. Now, you know, it was fifteen years ago, a little over now, I began broadcasting the quote "unvarnished truth" about the drug war here on Pacifica.

ART ACEVEDO: Yeah.

DEAN BECKER: There was hardly any elected official, not just in Houston, but in this country, that was agreeing that the drug war is a failure. And now, I've got dozens of stations around the US up into Canada that carry my shows, and there are lots of judges, politicians, cops, journalists, are standing up and pointing out the numerous flaws and failure of this modern prohibition. It gives me great comfort, but I also know that there are still those recalcitrant folks out there, like Jeff Sessions, might become our Attorney General, who could stall any progress there. Your thought in that regard, sir.

ART ACEVEDO: Well, you know, I always say that we should just, wait and see approach on the Attorney General nominee and Senator Sessions. You know, he will have to work with law enforcement, although he will be the chief law enforcement officer of the nation, you know, police chiefs across the country, we have our own views on these issues. We're not afraid to speak out on these issues, and we plan on weighing in on these issues, and so, you know, when people are dying from gunshot, when people are being gunned down, that's got to be the priority, is saving lives, you know, and so, we are going to be a police department as long as I'm here that's going to be really diligent, and being sure that we prioritize our precious resources.

You know, I'll be honest with you, I don't want neighborhoods with a bunch of street dealers harassing kids, and stuff like that. This is a quality of life issue for folks. But one of the things that we did in Austin is we had a drug market intervention, a DMI, in one of our more notorious locations, and what we did is we put undercover operations in play, built cases against lower level dealers that impact quality of life, really. That's what they impact most, you know, they're not involved in any violence but there's a lot of quality of life issues that they create.

And for about three to six months, we built cases on all these folks, and then together with the DA, we called them all in. With family members, with clergy, with counselors, and we offered them, here's the carrot, here's the stick.

DEAN BECKER: Yeah.

ART ACEVEDO: Now, we're going to put these cases that we built in abeyance. We're going to set them aside for now, you know, the statute of limitations isn't going to run out anytime soon. And, if you -- and then we help with them with, you know, job skills, we provide some wraparound services, and they get to choose. And I'd like to say that a lot of them ended up choosing going in a different direction, and we never had to prosecute them. So, I'm going to be looking for an opportunity to do a DMI here, once we get the new DA elected. See the -- to see where the worst problems, when it comes to drug, street level drug issues, and maybe we'll do a DMI here, that really impacts violent crime, but also impacts, improves the quality of life for our youth.

DEAN BECKER: Well, that's good to hear, sir. Recently, there was this case, the Houston rapper Paul Wall, and he's been, the Chronicle says, accused of profiting from pot parties. And yet, if he lived in Colorado or California, any of the 8 states where pot is legal, he'd simply be an entrepreneur, a businessman. Your thought there, sir.

ART ACEVEDO: Well, I, you know, there's two things on that. Number one, we've got to be careful, because the marijuana today is not the marijuana that you probably were, I don't know, I'm not trying to accuse you of being a marijuana user or anything, but it, you, we've just got to be careful because some of the stuff out there today is much more potent, much, I think, much more damaging, especially the synthetic marijuana.

Having said that, I think that the future will show that marijuana violations will end up being decriminalize, either becoming a civil matter or just -- which means decriminalized -- or just not controlled much, as -- I think in the future you're going to see a different approach from the government.

DEAN BECKER: I agree. They're having a really weird situation in Canada, where Prime Minister says we're going to legalize, but wait another year, another year, and it's not going over well up there.

ART ACEVEDO: It's baby steps, but they'll get there. And the other thing is, that marijuana, that I just always want to caution people that, you know, it does impact your motor skills, you know, your depth perception, so if you're going to do it, because I think one of the unintended consequences in Colorado has been that some folks think they can drive after smoking a lot of dope, and you really shouldn't be driving or operating machinery, stuff of that nature. That's something you should be doing chilling out and not doing something that requires full motor skills.

DEAN BECKER: You know, chief, I'm aware of some efforts right here in Texas to obtain CBD oil. For little kids, suffering with epilepsy, that Doctor Sanjay Gupta kind of proved the point for us a couple of years back. I'm aware of some elderly folks needing it for arthritis and other maladies, you know, slipped discs and all kinds of things. And, I would imagine that nearly every family in Texas, across America, has a child or an elder or a friend who is benefiting from this, and I guess what I'm leading to, sir, is, you know, it's becoming close to home. This need to examine, at least CBD and the marijuana extracts. Your thought there, sir.

ART ACEVEDO: I think that in the next few years you're going to see a real vigorous review of the medical benefits of marijuana as a treatment for nausea and all the other ailments that there has been some evidence that it provides relief to, and I think that you'll have a really spirited but well-informed discussion, and at some point, I could really -- I could really foresee in the future marijuana and some other oils being legalized for medicinal purposes. It will probably be the first step in Texas.

DEAN BECKER: Yes sir.

ART ACEVEDO: That would be my prediction.

DEAN BECKER: Just, was it last week or the week before, they had a major conference at the Texas Medical Center, featuring scientists from Israel, Baylor College of Medicine, Texas Children's, talking about the need to explore this, to perhaps have Texas Medical Center become the world's largest, you know, expert, as far as cannabis.

ART ACEVEDO: And you know, and the thing is that we, I'm a law enforcement officer. My job is to, you know, enforce the law. I will always, you know, I didn't go to school to be a scientist or a doctor.

DEAN BECKER: Yes, sir.

ART ACEVEDO: We're going to rely on them to give us their best assessment of the facts, as it relates to the benefits and some detriments, you know, there's detrimental side effects s well. So, once they weigh in, then I think that the legislature will have to make a decision based on, what they should follow, the scientific evidence and not, you know, it's my, I believed that it's a bad drug my entire life, you know, let's face it, alcohol's probably more -- does more damage than any drug. More people die probably from cirrhosis of the liver, and drinking and driving, and things of that nature, than people get impacted by marijuana.

DEAN BECKER: Yes, sir.

Let me break in to remind you, you are listening to Cultural Baggage on Pacifica Radio and the Drug Truth Network. Our guest is the new police chief of Houston, Art Acevedo.

You know, I know it's a bit before our new DA is sworn in, but I know you've had a chance to talk with her a bit.

ART ACEVEDO: Yeah.

DEAN BECKER: And, and I'm wondering if, I don't know, if there's some advice or some knowledge you might share in regards to how much weight a person might have of marijuana, or how much that empty bag of cocaine can have in it, or, how it's going to translate in the future.

ART ACEVEDO: Well, the problem with, you know, part of the problem with some of the controlled substances is it's a felony, and you know, we don't have any say. We've got to follow the law, regardless of personal use, we have to enforce the law. As it relates to marijuana, for four ounces or less, you know, and I got to Austin in '07, I think, and I was sworn on July 21st, I think it was, of '07, or 19th, of '07, and within a few months I instituted cite and release. And the reason I want to do cite and release is because, you know, while you're booking somebody for a little bit of marijuana, you know, three ounces, personal use amount, you've got people being robbed, houses being burglarized, home invasion robberies, and it just, you know, they're going to go in one door and probably be cited, or be given personal recognizance, it's just not a good use of precious resources.

So, I've already talked to the DA. We're going to have a conversation with the mayor and the sheriff. I really believe that it -- we need to, as a criminal justice system here in Harris County, we really need to come together and have a policy that is county-wide, city-wide, for all of our law enforcement entities to pursue, and I think that the DA's going to probably take a leading role in helping us establish that policy, and I think it's going to come sooner rather than later.

DEAN BECKER: Ah. Me too. I like that. You know, it's a little over 15 years ago, I quit growing marijuana when I started doing radio because I figured I'd have a laser beam on me, and it's worked out so far.

ART ACEVEDO: Now, you didn't have an entire garage full of plants?

DEAN BECKER: No, sir, I was growing out on Hempstead Highway. Now, I'm, I guess what I'm wanting to say is that, were it legalized, we wouldn't have these kids making butane hash oil. We wouldn't have, you know, criminal gangs distributing who knows what kind of product. I end this program with the thought, because of prohibition, you don't know what's in that bag. Please be careful. And I guess what I'm saying sir is that, were we to actually legalize, control, and regulate, I anticipate maybe more adults would use, but we would have fewer contaminants and other problems.

ART ACEVEDO: Yeah, and we might go back to what pot used to be, which was a natural herb, and, you know, a plant that grows in the ground and not the chemical stuff that is really, I mean, you look at the synthetic marijuana with Kush, it's poison, I mean --

DEAN BECKER: Yes sir. Well, yeah.

ART ACEVEDO: You see when someone was being delivered in Austin at the ARCH, right by my headquarters, and I was at a realtime crime center looking at the cameras, looking at all these people just, I mean, like zombies. Throwing up profusely, it just --

DEAN BECKER: Passing out.

ART ACEVEDO: It's just horrible, it was horrific. And then, the other thing that some of these folks do that I think is really wrong, is that they'll package the stuff, I don't know if you've seen some of the packaging, it looks like Pokemon cards, things of that nature, to try to --

DEAN BECKER: Yeah, yes, it's like cartoon whatever.

ART ACEVEDO: Right. Trying to look at -- trying to get young people to get into that stuff. And it's just, you know, to the kids that may be listening, that is poison. That is not even -- it's not a drug, it's not even a drug, it's absolute poison that they're putting in there, they're putting stuff in there that's going to kill you.

DEAN BECKER: Yeah. Oh, it is horrible. I hear in the legal states, Oregon, Colorado, that the use of that stuff is basically gone. The only people that use it now are probationers and parolees, because they're trying to pass that urine test. It's just crazy.

ART ACEVEDO: That's interesting.

DEAN BECKER: You know, a couple of years back, I interviewed the sheriff of King County.

ART ACEVEDO: Yeah.

DEAN BECKER: John Urquhart. He seems like a really good man, I've interviewed him a few times. And, here's part of a quote from him. "I think there are very few police chiefs or sheriffs that will come out and say that the drug war has been a success because, well, it hasn't been. But they are reluctant to talk about it because they've invested so much money, so much material, men, and we failed." And he says, but you can't put your hand in the sand and ignore that, we have to be honest with ourselves. And I guess, sir, I use the phrase, on the show quite often, that those who made their bones in this drug war find it very difficult to back down, to change their stance. You're an example that that's just not true. And I guess, you know, we were talking about Jeff Sessions. He's made his bones, certainly, but the younger folks, the more knowledgeable folks, are beginning to realize that there is a better way. Just your thought in that regard, please.

ART ACEVEDO: Well, listen, I mean, any leader that is not willing to say, hey you know we tried this, it doesn't work, is not really leading. You know, I'm not, you know, I always tell my police officers when I lead them is, look, at the end of any given day, if we haven't unjustly taken a life, lost one of our own, seriously injured somebody unjustly, or have one of our folks get injured or violate somebody's Constitutional rights, short of that, there's nothing we can't fix. If we try something that isn't working, we have to have the intestinal fortitude to say, hey, we looked at this, we've been doing this, this way hasn't worked. And I think that, again, when you look at the law enforcement profession that is under so much scrutiny, and I like to say it's a false narrative that it's broken, you know, policing isn't broken, this is the best generation of cops in the history of policing, believe it or not. I've been a cop for over 30 years.

DEAN BECKER: Yes, sir.

ART ACEVEDO: But it's imperfect, like the human condition. We've got some bad police officers. But the majority are honorable men and women. So, they do a great job. The truth of the matter is that when it comes to bias in society, when it comes to draconian sentencing laws for nonviolent drug offenders, the profession that's leading the way and pushing back and trying to change these things is the American law enforcement profession. I think that that's been lost in this narrative that, you know, police officers are -- that policing's broken.

Policing -- police profession is probably more pragmatic, I believe, and if you pay attention to what police chiefs are doing and saying across the country, whether it -- as it relates to bias in society, because it, you know, anybody that says we're not biased as creatures, are, you know -- if you're calling yourself a Christian and you say you don't have a bias, then you're already lying, because, you know, you can't -- you know, first step to salvation is admitting the sin, right, so, but, it is our profession that's leading the way and I'm proud to be part of it.

DEAN BECKER: Yes sir. Now, I put up a meme on Facebook a couple of weeks back. Do you have a rough guess as to, I don't know, the percentage of time that police forces around America invest into the drug war? It just seems to me to be very considerable at this point. Your thought.

ART ACEVEDO: You know what? I don't -- what I would say is that, the consequences of, we put a lot of time into dealing with the, the byproduct of the drug war. And the byproduct in some places is, you know, gangs aren't really fighting over red, you know, Bloods and Crips, red and blue. They're fighting over green, and part of that green is the drug trafficking industry that you've created. A lot of it is, you know, marijuana, a lot of it is other things.

But, you know, that byproduct is, when you include that plus the crimefighting in the neighborhoods, for the street level, and the big dealers, it's significant, it's a significant amount of our resources, and the -- but the thing is, again, I think the more that we do to focus on the worst of the worst in society, and then focus on getting people that have addiction issues, that, because of that addiction are making some poor decisions and they're burglarizing homes and breaking into cars, and stealing from folks. You know, if we can deal with the addiction, and put more resources into addiction, I think that in the front end it might cost us a little bit more money, but at the back end we're going to save a lot.

DEAN BECKER: Just a quick summary of that meme: if there are, and, you know, this is Google telling me, 765 sworn police officers in the US -- 765,000, sorry sir. Forty hours a week, 52, that's one billion five hundred and ninety one million man hours, and over the 40 years of the drug war, if it were 10 percent of their time, it would be six billion man hours. And that could have been directed towards the violent criminals, to the, those who mean us harm. Anyway.

Chief, I -- how to say this? As a drug reformer, you know, fifteen years of drug war news, I was president of Houston NORML, on the board of the Drug Policy Forum of Texas, partner with the National Drug Policy Alliance, I'm a former cop, and I'm now a speaker for a group called Law Enforcement Against Prohibition.

ART ACEVEDO: Yeah.

DEAN BECKER: We've got, last I heard, 170,000 members and supporters worldwide. It's, I don't expect you to join up today, we have very few, very few working law enforcement officers, because it's just such a stigma, a situation to deal with. But, you know, I look at it this way. That this drug war was started 75, or 100 years ago, depends on how you want to look at it, by moralists and profiteers. And frightened people. And I guess we're getting over the fear these days, we're starting to use science to quell some of that fear. And I guess, you've been talking about it, the -- on the horizon, good things will be happening soon. And especially here in Houston.

I want to thank you for being here, but I want to just offer this up. I would like to open a little store called Becker's Buds. Someday, some day.

ART ACEVEDO: Better get that trademarked and copyrighted, and, you know, all that stuff.

DEAN BECKER: Yes, sir. And, I would like to help in -- we had a vote in the Texas legislature that would allow for a needle exchange in San Antonio, but a, I don't know, a judge or a rep there said not in my town. It did not happen. But it's been proven to save lives, and, heck, Seattle's now thinking of opening a heroin injection site, where they provide free, clean, pure heroin, and advice, to those that are addicted. It's really coming down to, what is best fo the country? What is best for the neighborhood, the family, the individual, rather than what's best for law enforcement. Your thoughts.

ART ACEVEDO: Well, I mean, listen, you know, we're not policymakers. We don't pass the laws, and, you know, one of the tough things about being a police officer is that, you know, that the legislative branch actually legislates. You know? We're part of the executive branch, we have to go out and do whatever is legislated, and then the courts interpret, and they tell us what's Constitutional and not, and so, we get blamed for a lot of, you know, things that we -- we're just doing what our sworn duty is, to enforce the laws as passed by the legislative branch and interpreted by the judicial branch. And, so, having said that, that's why I think as leaders and professionals, that are the ones that see the pros and the cons of these issues, these laws, we have to be the subject matter experts that weigh in. And I really believe in the next few years you're going to see that we're going to be a little bit more thoughtful as a nation as it relates to drug enforcement.

DEAN BECKER: Yes, sir. And as we're wrapping it up here, this brings to mind my request to you. It's going out to Kim Ogg, it's going out to our new sheriff, every member of the council and the commissioners, mayor, the judge, to at least write a letter, if not visit, these legislative bodies that are going to be considering changes to our drug laws, and to give them your two cents, or your whole dollar, you know, your whole thoughts on it.

ART ACEVEDO: Yeah.

DEAN BECKER: Because, these politicians are scared. They've ensconced themselves into this quote system, they've quote made their bones, they -- it's hard for them to now back down. And good folks like you could help make that possible. Will you consider doing that, sir?

ART ACEVEDO: Yeah, I mean, I think that part of our job as practitioners is to, when the legislature's weighing in on issues of public policy, we're going to be asked to weigh in, and I'm sure that our mayor, who's really my boss, is going to want me to be honest, and forthright, and to provide honest input, and I anticipate that we'll be called upon because every legislative session we are, as subject matter experts.

DEAN BECKER: Well, I am glad to hear that, sir. Folks, we've been speaking with Houston's new police chief, Art Acevedo. And, I'm just glad he's our new chief. Thank you for being our guest, chief.

ART ACEVEDO: Thank you very much. I want to wish everybody a happy New Year and, you know, we've been talking about drugs, remember, if you're going to partake, one of the things you need to do is not drive, and have a safe, joyful, and prosperous 2017. I'll be on patrol December 31st in the city of Houston, hope I don't meet you unless it's to say hi.

DEAN BECKER: All right, the chief said he'll come back a couple of times a year just like Charles McClelland used to do. That's great for all of us. Just time for Name That Drug By Its Side Effects.

It's time to play Name That Drug By Its Side Effects! Responsible for countless overdose deaths, uncounted diseases, international graft, greed, and corruption, stilted science, and immense un-Christian moral postulations of fiction as fact. Time's up! And this drug is the United States' immoral, improper, addiction to drug war. All approved by the FDA, absolved by the American Medical Association, and persecuted by Congress, the cops, and in obeyance to the needs of the bankers, the pharmaceutical houses, and the international drug cartels. Five hundred fifty billion dollars a year can be very addicting.

As we close, I want to remind you that on January First, it will be a happy New Year. We'll have a new DA and sheriff joining Police Chief Acevedo. And again, I remind you, because of prohibition you don't know what's in that bag. Please be careful.