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Discredited Narcotics Unit Revamped as Firearms Unit

by Douglas Ankney

In 2020, the U.S. Department of Justice reported that officers from the Narcotics Unit of the Springfield Police Department in Massachusetts engaged “in a pattern or practice of excessive force in violation of the Fourth Amendment of the United States Constitution.” The report identified evidence showing officers repeatedly punched individuals in the face unnecessarily in order to escalate encounters with civilians and resorted to take down maneuvers and head strikes that resulted in head injuries. 

Instead of disciplining the officers, Springfield Police Commissioner Cheryl Clapprood created a Firearm Investigation Unit (“FIU”) to be composed of the officers from the Narcotics Unit. The city of Springfield announced that the FIU would replace the now decommissioned Narcotics Unit. Captain Brian Keenan happily approved of Clapprood’s move. “Taking the Narcotics Bureau in a new direction into a new way of doing things focusing on firearms we’ll find ways to reduce fear of crime and violence in Springfield,” Keenan said.

The government’s insatiable appetite for banning stuff has a long, unsuccessful, and violent history. As the Prohibition era gave rise to organized crime and sputtered to a bloody end, Harry Anslinger—the assistant commissioner of prohibition—became commissioner of a newly created Federal Bureau of Narcotics. In 1930, the war on drugs began. Jeff Riggenbach wrote a 1980 essay for Libertarian Review that demonstrated it was “a spirit of self-preservation among Prohibition and narcotics agents and a spirit of monopolistic protectionism among liquor manufacturers” along with “a widespread racist fear of Spanish-speaking immigrants” which “led to national prohibition of marijuana.”

The logic: When one war becomes unpopular, you create a new scare and shift your “soldiers” to fighting that new war. Like, perhaps, when the fear of marijuana subsides and pot becomes legal, you simply create a fear of armed dangerous Black men and create an FIU to fight this war on firearms used in crimes.  


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