Policing drug users — When does a crisis become a threat?
Californians’ attitudes about drug use are changing – and states across the country are following suit. In recent years, California voters relaxed drug sentencing laws and legalized marijuana. Advocates say drug users should no longer be treated as criminals. Yet, an investigation by KPCC and The San Bernardino Sun found more than 70 percent of people shot by officers in the nation’s biggest county showed signs of drug or alcohol use.
Criminal justice experts say the behavior of drug users often seems threatening to officers when it may not be. In some cases, police are called to assist with people in crisis and wind up drawing their weapons. Law enforcement officials say recent changes in drug laws have made the job of police more challenging. What’s the new role of police when it comes to dealing with intoxicated people who may not be responding the way a sober person would? Are officers accurately perceiving threats? How do we build healthy and safe communities?
On July 14, KPCC’s Annie Gilbertson and The San Bernardino Sun’s Beatriz Valenzuela discussed how California’s changing attitudes may change street-level policing.
Lolita Harper – Sheriff’s Employees Benefits Association director of public relations, formerly a detective for the San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Department
Eunisses Hernandez – Drug Policy Alliance policy coordinator