12/05/14 Charles A. McClelland Jr

Cultural Baggage Radio Show

Charles A. McClelland Jr. the Police Chief of Houston Texas joins us for the full program, describes the failure of the war on drugs.

Audio file



DECEMBER 5, 2014

DEAN BECKER: This is Cultural Baggage, I'm your host Dean Becker. Today our only guest, the Houston Police Chief Charles A. McLelland, Jr. You know, today we're privileged to have with us Charles A. McLelland, Jr. He's the police chief of Houston, Texas. Chief, I want to compliment you on your willingness to come in, I want to thank you for being here.

CHARLES MCLELLAND: Well thank you for having me, it is my pleasure, and it's always a pleasure to represent all the great men and women of the Houston Police Department.

DEAN BECKER: Yes sir, now there was an event, I don't know, three of four weeks ago at the HPD headquarters, right there on your front porch, a bunch of people came out to complain about the HPD, but yet you set aside a lane of traffic, protected them, there was no incidence of, you know, rebellion or whatever, you allowed them to have their protest and it went quite well, and I thank you for your, your willingness to just allow people to have their say.

CHARLES MCLELLAND: Well you know, all of us here in law enforcement, especially at the Houston Police Department, we respect peoples' constitutional rights to peacefully assemble and protest. You know, when you think about it, police should be the first defenders and protectors of the Constitution, because that is in our oath of office and we recognize that, that privilege and that right is fundamental to our democracy and it should be preserved at all cost.

DEAN BECKER: Well again, my hat's off to you for what you did that day, sir.

CHARLES MCLELLAND: Well thank you.

DEAN BECKER: Yes sir. Now, in anticipation of this interview I wrote to my friends, my brother and sisters in Law Enforcement Against Prohibition, we're up to 150,000 members and supporters now, and I got some questions from some of them. I'll start off first of all here, this is from the former police chief of Los Angeles, his name is Stephen Downing, and his first question was, what costs, what costs more: incarceration of nonviolent drug users or treatment?

CHARLES MCLELLAND: Well, I would say incarceration is, will far outweigh the cost of treatment and prevention, there's no doubt about it. Here in the state of Texas, it costs somewhere around $50-60,000 per inmate to house one single inmate per year in Texas prisons.

DEAN BECKER: Wow, that's a lot of money, when you extrapolate that over all the 100,000 plus that are there.

CHARLES MCLELLAND: Well absolutely, there's over 150,000 folks that are in Texas prisons, so yeah, it is a great cost, and that's why, when you look at it just from a financial, monetary standpoint, the taxpayers can't afford to build jails and prisons to lock up everyone that commits a crime. We must put more money into crime prevention, treatment, education, job training.

DEAN BECKER: Yes sir. Now, when we look at the costs involved, you know, we think about the situation that, you know, we've been treating drug addiction as a criminal justice issue.


DEAN BECKER: But so seldom do law enforcement and especially the criminal justice, the prosecution, want to consider it as, you know, a health problem rather than, you know, a criminal problem.


DEAN BECKER: And that's kind of led to the situation where we have the 150,000 behind bars rather than in treatment. I've got a question from my good friend Judge Jim Gray, he was a Superior Court judge out in California, and he says, have you ever hired deputies that have smoked marijuana, and if so, how has that worked out?

CHARLES MCLELLAND: Well, we certainly have, you know, drug policies and hiring guidelines, and there is a minimum amount of times that one can experiment with marijuana within a certain time period before they're ineligible to be hired as a Houston police officer. All of those Schedule 1, other schedule one drugs such as heroin, cocaine, methamphetamine, those are one-time exclusions, if you have used those then it makes you ineligible. We're constantly, you know, researching and revising our hiring guidelines to make sure that, you know, that they're appropriate for today, and sometimes young people make a mistake.

DEAN BECKER: Yes sir. I asked this question of a couple of our district attorneys. Do you think we've made any difference in squashing the drug trade in the last five years?

CHARLES MCLELLAND: Well, I will say this. The drug war, or the war on drugs, has been somewhat a failure in this respect. It has disproportionately criminalized a certain segment of our population. Now, we certainly found that out after President Reagan's drug policies in the 1980s and mandatory sentencing, it has a disproportionate effect on young minority men. And what that has, it has a trickle-down effect, that a lot of young men who are minorities, in their early 20s, have a felony conviction on their resume, and now they're unemployable. And we wonder why they don't have jobs, they're not working, they're not contributing to society in a productive way, but we've put them in a position to where the odds are stacked against them.

Have we flowed, stopped the flow of drugs coming from other countries into the United States? I would say we've done very little because of our appetite and consumption. If there was not a market here in the United States, people would not be bringing drugs and contraband into our country.

DEAN BECKER: Exactly right sir. Now, this kind of brings to mind this question. Look, you and I cannot change these laws. We depend on others, representatives at the state and the federal government to give us directions.


DEAN BECKER: And what's never really considered, or I don't think, is that you know this current situation empowers terrorists, enriches these barbarous cartels, it gives reason for these gangs to be out prowling our neighborhoods, and yet we never ask the question. Considering the horror that we inflict on ourselves by believing in this, we never consider what is the benefit? What do we derive that would offset, would counterbalance this effort? I was wondering if you would address that thought, sir.

CHARLES MCLELLAND: Well, I would certainly agree with you that, you know, drugs is the root cause, or underlying cause of a whole variety of crimes in our communities and society today, there's no doubt about it. I would also agree with you that, in my opinion, the federal government must take the lead into setting our drug policies, otherwise you will have all of these different states or different local, state governments coming up with different policies when it comes to certain drugs such as marijuana.

Now, just a little civic lesson. Police departments, law enforcement is part of the executive branch of government. Out of our three branches of government, we're part of the executive branch. So, if the federal government still classifies marijuana as a schedule one drug, and it's a federal crime, it's very difficult for states to do that in a way that it doesn't put law enforcement in conflict with enforcing their oath of office. And that's why, the federal government has to decide: is marijuana just as dangerous as cocaine, heroin? I don't know, but they're going to have to do that.

DEAN BECKER: Yes sir, well, I grew up in the 60s, I can tell you it's not as dangerous.

CHARLES MCLELLAND: Well, a lot of people agree with you.

DEAN BECKER: Yes sir. Now, let's talk about, you were mentioning the executive position of law enforcement. You work within the mayor's office, is that, there's an alignment there?

CHARLES MCLELLAND: Well, the police chief is appointed by the mayor, the mayor is my boss, I have one boss. And, you know, I work at the will of the mayor. However, there is a difference in my duties and responsibility as a sworn police office – that's why we, they refer to police officers as sworn members of law enforcement because you actually raise your hand and take an oath of office, and you swear to enforce federal law, state law, all the local laws, and police officers are taught, you enforce the law without fear or favor. So it doesn't matter what the mayor's position is on a law, or the mayor's position that may be sometimes in conflict of what your oath of office is. And that's okeh.

DEAN BECKER: I wanted to come back to, you know, you work under the auspices I guess of the mayor, but you do have others that kind of push and pull at you, like the patrolmen union's officials, or stance, direction they want to push or pull you, correct?

CHARLES MCLELLAND: Well, that's correct. You know the police chief, you know, even though appointed by the mayor, has all of these internal and external forces that are tugging at the chief. Obviously, sometimes there's members and certain segments of the community wants me to do some things or not do some things. There's a rank and file, you know, we have about 6,700 members at HPD, you know, about 5,300 cops, you know, and another 1,400 or so civilian support personnel. They want me to do something differently. So, it's a very difficult job and sometimes you're caught between forces from many many different directions.

DEAN BECKER: If we were to legalize marijuana, it would perhaps cut down on the overtime of some officers, because we have that situation, where the two DA candidates were talking about arrest for weed or write a ticket, and all these various situations. Do the patrolmen really want to continue this, do they kind of appeal to address this marijuana situation the way we always have?

CHARLES MCLELLAND: Well, I think most police officers, they want guidance from the federal government. You know, what do you want law enforcement to do? Now clearly, the police officers on the street will support measures that, you know, shorten their time of doing administrative paper work, there's no doubt about it. But they also understand too that if they drive by someone that's smoking marijuana on the corner and citizens in the neighborhood are calling in because they believe that's the person broke into their home or car, they've got to address that issue too.

But I just think that we want some clear guidance. A lot of law enforcement officers see things in black and white, and they want to know, look, from the federal government, if it's illegal, do you want us to enforce it or not? And if it's something that should be changed, then take it off the list. I think that that's what they want, they want some guidance.

DEAN BECKER: Let's, I mean, I hear the stories out of Louisiana, other states where they have these forfeiture traps if you will, they pull over people to the side of the road, find some cash, say hey sign this paper, we'll let you go, but we're keeping this cash. I don't hear that too much about Houston, but is it part of the budget, do we get asset forfeiture funds here too?

CHARLES MCLELLAND: We do get asset forfeiture funds, but there is, we don't count on that as part of our budget, or there's a certain amount that comes in. We certainly don't have policies like some of the states that you mentioned and using those type of practices. When we do, you know, interdictions, you know, folks bring in contraband into the city across the borders, and it comes in many different ways, you know, we have a large international seaport, we have a large international airport, we have a large trucking industry, you know, I-10 corridor runs from west coast to east coast, 59 corridor runs from Mexico to Canada, so there's many different ways that traffickers bring contraband and drugs into this country.

But there is a legal procedure. We don't let you go, you know, you're actually charged with the illegal transportation and distribution of drugs, and you go through the criminal courts and due process, and then it's determined later whether you violated the law, whether the money and property can be seized, but not before.

DEAN BECKER: Well, that's – thank you for that, sir, I'm glad to hear that. You know I hear horror stories from these other states.

CHARLES MCLELLAND: No, you don't give up any rights because you know, you may be stopped on suspicion of doing something wrong, you've got to have due process.

DEAN BECKER: You are listening to Cultural Baggage on the Drug Truth Network and Pacifica Radio. I'm your host Dean Becker, our guest, the police chief of Houston, Texas, Charles A. McLelland, Jr.

DEAN BECKER: I keep hearing these stories about police militarization, little bitty town getting tanks and machine guns, and you know, the whole work. I understand we have a few of those, uh, you know, high tech devices if you will, but it's not like we're roaming the city streets with them, they're for real emergencies, is that right?

CHARLES MCLELLAND: Absolutely. You know, Ferguson's been a good example, where people saw some things that law enforcement were doing, equipment that they were using, that made them very uncomfortable here in a free and democratic society. The majority of the equipment that we have received have been chairs, desks, generators, things that we need in emergency situations, that we use all the time in hurricanes, flood situations. All of the vehicles that we have are for SWAT, or our tactical units, if we had an active shooter or situation where we had to go in and rescue someone from gunfire, but we have strict policies and we don't use armor and tear gas on protesters.

DEAN BECKER: You know chief, I used to open my show with the phrase “Broadcasting from the gulag filling station of planet earth, this is Cultural Baggage.” But the fact of the matter is, things have mellowed out since I started this show. People are beginning to understand that there's a need for change. Now, you talked about the feds needing to reexamine, reassess this situation. If we could wave a magic wand and all the drug dealers would be gone, we both know that in a short amount of time some others would show up to replace them. Does it ever feel like just a drop in the bucket, that we're just never going to quite achieve this goal?

CHARLES MCLELLAND: Well, I do think, I think that we need to look at new strategies and innovative ways to keep our communities safe. And, you know, law enforcement traditionally has been, enforce the law, you know, enforce the rules, someone violates the law you lock them up and you try to lock them up as long as you can. But also we know too that takes a tremendous amount of our resources to do that over and over again. As a society, and law enforcement can't be the lead in some of this, but as a society we must spend more money in education, making sure that kids stay in school and don't drop out, number one. Two, you've got to get some type of trade or college. Now college is not for everyone, we understand that, but if you provide avenues for folks to support themselves legitimately, then the chances of them engaging in illegitimate opportunities will decrease, and we know that, and that saves everybody's money.

DEAN BECKER: Three hundred seventy five billion dollars a year, that's what the drug trade is, that was presented to me by Anthony Placido, I think he was with the ONDCP. And, I hear that half of that money is used to corrupt officials – border guards, and occasionally cops and DEA and CIA even at times. And, that's just a heck of a lot of money that makes it very difficult to keep people honest and on the up and up, isn't it?

CHARLES MCLELLAND: Well, I would say so, that, you know, certainly it's enough money for folks to, you know, sell their morals and their ethics, that's true, for a few. And that's why it is so lucrative for these drug cartels to take any means necessary to get their cargo into the United States. It's no different than the oil industry. The reason why middle eastern countries make so much money off of oil is because of our consumption here in the United States. And if we do something to decrease our consumption, through drug rehabilitation, crime prevention, all of those things, we can take the money out of the cartels' pockets.

DEAN BECKER: Here's a question I got from a former police chief of Seattle, Norm Stamper. Most of the polls that coming forward now, mostly dealing with marijuana, show the majority, 51 to 58 percent of American people want that to change, and I was wanting to ask, what does that mean to a police chief, what should that mean to our elected officials? Should they analyze this, make some changes?

CHARLES MCLELLAND: Well, yes, I do agree that they should analyze this, this is why I keep going back to the federal government. Most police chiefs understand that when it comes to marijuana use, we cannot criminalize such a large population of society that engage in casual marijuana use. We can't, you just can't continue to do that, we understand that.


CHARLES MCLELLAND: We do. And this is why the federal government really needs to take the lead. Now health-wise, I don't know what the long-term effects is for marijuana use, just like long-term effects of using an aspirin. I just don't know. But I do know that it makes it difficult for law enforcement to enforce the law when you have a state law that may allow it, federal government does not. And, and on the other hand, too, sometimes young people make a mistake, and they've got to be given a second chance. And, so, I think this is something that, the country has moved, and sometimes you know, government has to move too. You know, in answer to the will of the people.

DEAN BECKER: There you go. Chief, I know you've probably seen at least some of the notices coming out of Colorado, Washington, we just picked up Oregon, Alaska and Washington, DC. And so far there's not really too many problems, there was some problem with the edibles being unknown quality and all that kind of stuff, some people taking too much, but that's kind of died down since people started looking at it more intelligently I suppose. And it kind of gives an example. We even have Governor Perry and some other Texas Republicans talking about that need for change as well, don't we?

CHARLES MCLELLAND: Yeah we do, that's why I'm certainly proud of the fact that myself, the Harris County Sheriff Adrian Garcia, and the Harris County District Attorney Devon Anderson have this pilot program that's taking place as we speak for first-time offenders, first-time offenders who are caught with two ounces or less of marijuana, that, you know, can choose this option and not have a criminal record, not go to jail, and after the six months I think we're going to be able to make some good recommendations to our state lawmakers and other elected officials on where we need to go in the state of Texas.

Now in those other states, when I talk to my counterparts, police chiefs in those other states, they go right back to where I go with the federal government, because here's, here's some of the unanticipated problems that come up. Because it's, it is a federal law against marijuana distribution and use, the banks won't take the marijuana industry's money, so it's a cash business, people are subject to robberies now and folks know that. And there is a continuing underground market of drug dealers still selling small amounts on the street corners, and selling it cheaper, undercut, undercutting the legitimate industry there. So those things cropped up.

DEAN BECKER: Chief, as a, and I'll admit it, years ago I used to grow. I used to supply myself for nothing. And I guess the point I'd like to bring up here is that it is the prohibition which gives the black market reason to exist. And it is those high taxes and the high price on that marijuana, because I think in a legitimate marketplace it would be about five dollars a pound, because it's so easy to grow, and through the high prices and the taxation, they're actually giving the black market life. Your response.

CHARLES MCLELLAND: Well, you know, I just think, look. If we have studies, legitimate research, to support, and I'll take the medicinal angle on this, that if marijuana has certain medical properties that, you know, help people with certain diseases, illnesses, or whatever, then why don't the FDA move to approve that? Put it in a pill or whatever form and you go to CVS and Walgreen's and fill your prescription.

DEAN BECKER: Well, good point, and I think it important to note that MD Anderson Hospital right now is doing a marijuana extract study on children with epilepsy. You perhaps saw the report with Sanjay Gupta?

CHARLES MCLELLAND: I actually did, I saw that.

DEAN BECKER: And I think that shook up a lot of people's perceptions about marijuana. Your thoughts, sir.

CHARLES MCLELLAND: The same. You know, obviously I'm not a medical doctor, but there is growing research to show that it may have, uh, legitimate purposes to decrease people's seizures, epilepsy, we've always heard about people with glaucoma, those type things, and if it does, the FDA needs to move. You know? And people can go to Wal-Mart, and CVS, and, you know, Walgreen's, and fill their prescription.

DEAN BECKER: And allow you and your officers to focus on something –

CHARLES MCLELLAND: Focus on something else.

DEAN BECKER: You know, chief, we have a few minutes left here and I, I wanted to just say this: I want to thank you once again because, I have tried for years to get people at the federal level, even at the state level, you know, representatives and senators, to come on my show, to explain to us why we need to go down this same path, and it's been pretty much a failure. I mean, I'll be honest with you, I have tried to get the last five drug czars to come on, head of the ONDCP, and they absolutely refuse to do so. Even the new guy Michael Botticelli, he's a former alcoholic, like me. I think he understands a lot of the concerns, but he's constrained, and he – his office refuses to come on this show. I wonder why they cannot defend the policy, why they ignore me or, you know, deny me the right for that interview.

CHARLES MCLELLAND: Most of us understand, we do believe, those of us that are law enforcement executives, that the war on drugs, the 1980 drug policies, was a miserable failure, there's no doubt about that. Now on the other hand, I know that everyone in our community here in Houston is not going to agree with Chief McLelland, but that doesn't mean that we have to be disagreeable. I think that one thing that everyone will agree with me on is we want to do whatever we can in the most efficient and effective way to keep our communities safe as possible. And we do have to think differently about crime, crime prevention, drug rehabilitation, substance abuse, mental illness, there's a whole host of things that we need to treat differently than we did ten years ago, twenty years ago, fifteen years ago, I think we can all agree on that.

DEAN BECKER: Yes sir, I hear you. Well, I wanted to alert you, December 17th is going to mark 100 years since the passage of the Harrison Narcotics Act.

CHARLES MCLELLAND: Oh really? I didn't know that.

DEAN BECKER: And there's a lot of people around the country going to hold rallies in front of the courthouse that day, at noon. Hopefully get some attorneys come out to share in assessing and addressing this situation, but we've got seven major cities, and I'm just letting you know. I guess it will be be on county property but you being the police chief, I wanted to let you know in advance. I guess the point being sir that, you know, 45 million arrests yet drugs are still about as cheap and pure and available as they ever were, and I just wish that these other, you know, the high echelon, the feds and the state reps, would come on this show and, you know, find a better way.

CHARLES MCLELLAND: Well I do think that you're going to see some movement, and even here in the state of Texas, you know, and we have been known to be a little conservative here just as a state, but the support and growing interest in changing some of our marijuana laws, as you have alluded to earlier, even from Governor Perry, shows you that people are beginning to think about this issue differently, and they know that we've got to do something different than what we're doing.

DEAN BECKER: All right. Well friends, we've been speaking with Mister Charles A. McLelland, Jr., the police chief of Houston, Texas. Chief, I want to thank you, I hope we can continue this conversation again real soon.

CHARLES MCLELLAND: Well, I'll come back any time you invite me, I appreciate it, and it was a great opportunity to represent the men and women of the Houston Police Department.

DEAN BECKER: Thank you, sir.


DEAN BECKER: After the interview, the chief said he'd like to come back every quarter to talk about the drug war, and folks, the drug war is dying. Please help in the mercy killing. As always, I remind you that because of prohibition you don't know what's in that bag, please be careful.