Stephen Downing, Retired Deputy Chief from the Los Angeles Police Department
On behalf of Law Enforcement Against Prohibition
Meeting of the Board of Supervisors, Los Angeles, CA
Tuesday, January 24, 2012, 9:30am, Board Hearing Room 381B
Thank you for the opportunity to present my views in opposition to Agenda Item 19 to
reconfigure, modernize, and expand the overall county jail facility system at an
ultimate cost of $2.66 billion.
My name is Stephen Downing. I am a resident of Los Angeles County, a retired deputy
chief from the Los Angeles Police Department and a member of the executive board of
Law Enforcement Against Prohibition, an organization of criminal justice professionals
who bear personal witness to the wasteful futility and harms of our current drug policies …
and their generous contribution to the facility and population growth afforded the prison
Today, the discussion should not be about building more prisons. It should be about how
we can eventually abolish the prison industrial complex.
We continue to nourish its cancerous growth by handing to law enforcement the State’s
social, political and economic problems –all in the name of SAFETY and SECURITY.
We take the easy way out by criminalizing those problems and caging our people rather
than nurturing the great potential of all of our country’s human resources.
Connie Rice sums it up very well in her book in, Power Concedes Nothing –The font of
her outstanding work is to seek means by which to eliminate counterproductive law
enforcement strategies and replace them with a community public health approach –and,
based upon my 20 years of experience with the Los Angeles Police Department, I
couldn’t agree more.
There is a world beyond surveillance, policing and imprisonment and if we invest in that
world rather than helping to expand the prison industrial complex we can truly become the
country that our founding fathers envisioned.
I would like to recommend that you help us do that by insisting that no more prisons are
built in Los Angeles County. Do that, both for us and as an example to the rest of the
Rather than build more prisons you can implement policies that help reduce the choices that
police make about which people to target, what to target them for, and when to arrest and
Restricting budgetary allotments and passing a lowest law enforcement priority ordinance can play a major
role in who gets locked up and how many prisons we don’t have to build.
The prohibitionist policies of this country have destroyed generations of our young people, fueled the growth
of street gangs in Los Angeles from two with a membership of less than one hundred 40 years ago to 33,000
across the Nation with a membership of 1,500,000. Two years ago the cartels controlled the drug trade in 250
Amerian cities. Today they occupy 1,000 American cities. In short, the war on drugs – or better put – the
war on the people –has become the major contributor to the cancerous growth of the prison industrial
The third rail of drug policy that police and politicians refuse to touch has been short circuited. It has no
power to drive this unjust war and its corrupting influences any further. The people have pulled the switch.
Three out of 4 Americans now see the war on drugs as a failure and 55% now support legalizing marijuana.
Listen to them. Refuse the sheriff’s bid to build more prisons. It is time for our elected leaders to pick up that
third rail with both hands and throw it into the vast sea of failure where it belongs.
If you refuse the Sheriff’s request and acknowledge that the war on drugs is a failure and that a public health
approach portends a better future we can quickly bring an end to the criminal power behind the black-
markets, the violence and the rates of incarceration the war on drugs has created.
The cartels, street and prison gangs and the industrial prison complex will concede nothing until their power
is torn away. And the only way to do that is by eliminating the drug policy that has allowed them, rather than
the people, to thrive.