Paul Mozina
Op Ed

Defund the Drug War

You can’t defund the police without changing what’s driving the military mentality of cops.

By - Oct 11th, 2020 05:52 pm

Marijuana plant. Photo by Jennifer Martin (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons.

Marijuana plant. Photo by Jennifer Martin (Own work) (CC BY-SA 4.0), via Wikimedia Commons.

Stopping the War on Drugs is the key to defunding and demilitarizing the Milwaukee Police Department. We will change the MPD’s Warrior mentality to that of Guardian when we stop passing out valor-combat awards to members who participate in drug busts. We will reallocate funding to meet the people’s critical needs when we stop wasting their money trying to control what they inoffensively put in their bodies.

Local, state and federal politicians are the drug war’s generals; law enforcement agencies provide the foot soldiers. Politicians arbitrarily draw battle lines by deciding which substances to criminalize. In the fog of war, politicians actually believe they have a legitimate right to control what drugs you or I decide to put in our bodies. Via legislative alchemy, substances are transformed into the personifications of evil. Echoing George Orwell’s book 1984: America was at war with Cannabis. America had always been at war with Cannabis. Are we still at war with Cannabis?

The Department of Defense has repurposed $7.4 billion in military gear to law enforcement agencies since 1990, most of which is used for the war on drugs, but it’s the military mindset that has most insidiously corrupted the MPD and their law enforcement partners. This became clear to me during the trial of Jordan Fricke in the shooting death of officer Matthew Rittner.

District Attorney John Chisholm asserted in his opening statement that: “It should have been a safely executed search warrant.” Had he fully explained that it was a high-risk, no-knock search warrant, that should have been “safely executed,” the oxymoron would have been evident. He told the jury that officer Rittner: “…didn’t come there of his own volition, he was there as part of a tactical enforcement unit [TEU].”  Dogs of war follow orders.

Officer Lane Grady testified that he had executed 2,500 TEU search warrants in 15 years while officer Trevor DeBoer claimed “thousands” in his 15 years on the job. Grady had never been fired on; DeBoer had been three times. That is at least 3.2 TEU search warrants per week by the MPD. Grady said that the TEU had a saying as they approached a target that they were: “looking for work.” Rittner, Grady and DeBoer all came from the military “looking for work” at the MPD and found it breaking down doors. The Fire and Police Commission does not require any reporting from the MPD regarding the operations of the tactical enforcement unit, which is par for the course.

The justification for executing the high-risk, no-knock search warrant at Fricke’s upper flat at 9:00 a.m. February 6th, 2019 was that Fricke was “maintaining a drug trafficking place.” Yes, Fricke was selling small quantities of cannabis to his friends, but is that all it takes to bring on a high-risk no-knock search warrant?

In his opening statements, and throughout the trial, Chisholm implied that Fricke was involved in illegally putting guns in the hands of felons based on information provided by a confidential informant (CI). The CI had been caught illegally selling a gun to a felon and he implicated Fricke, most likely in exchange for valuable consideration in his own case (he was released on probation in May).

The MPD had doubtful information to support the CI’s allegation and, rather than work the case for illegal gun trafficking, they took a short-cut and had the CI purchase $60 of cannabis from Fricke. The CI was not allowed to testify at Fricke’s trial. The state never charged Fricke with illegal gun trafficking and no illegal substances or guns of any kind were recovered at his house.

The war on drugs is a magnet attracting drugs, guns and money. The policing of the heroin supply along with the boom in opioid prescriptions, has resulted in street markets flooded with synthetic opioids. Members of the MPD’s High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area (HIDTA) Task Force are helpless to stop the influx of fentanyl and lament the good old days –- when it was just heroin.

Selling anything containing fentanyl is obscenely profitable – and dangerous. According to Milwaukee County Medical Examiner, Dr. Brian Peterson, there were 418 drug deaths in the County in 2019 and the number is projected to rise to 448 in 2020, “with no end in sight,” he noted. The Milwaukee City-County Heroin, Opioid and Cocaine Task Force, started in March 2017, refuses to even discuss the impact the war on drugs has on trauma, violence, crime, and overdose.

The Milwaukee Homicide Review Commission’s (MHRC) reports from the years 2014 to 2016 show a clear connection between homicides, non-fatal shootings and the illegal drug marketplace.  Former MPD Chief Ed Flynn shut down its access to data but the MHRC is back in operation now and it is critical that they provide an update on “drug-related” homicides and non-fatal shootings.

We must hold the politicians who perpetuate the war on drugs accountable for the cost in blood and treasure. The Common Council should stop accepting HIDTA and other federal and state grants that entangle the MPD while we taxpayers bear the brunt of the true costs. In 2020, 57% of the city’s pension obligation went to retired MPD members and the huge officer classes hired in response to the 1994 Crime Bill are a major cause of the $60-80 million-dollar pension deficit that looms in 2023.

The war on drugs creates crime. It increases violence, death, incarceration, poverty and overdoses because it perpetuates an illegal market – just like alcohol prohibition did. Enforcement efforts have targeted Black and brown people for three generations resulting in trauma, concentrated mass incarceration, broken families, homelessness, disrupted educations and restricted job opportunities.

It is criminal that the city uses a vast amount of our tax dollars to pay the police to enforce laws which illegitimately usurp our fundamental rights to be the masters of our own bodies.

MPD members know that the war on drugs is hopeless and they have communicated this over and over to the politicians in charge only to be ignored. Imagine someone working in Milwaukee’s Department of Public Works complaining that filling potholes with sand is not working and being told: Sorry, it’s the law. Unlike for the DPW worker however, there are serious moral consequences for the MPD member.

Those concerned about defunding the police, might want to demand that our local politicians expand the MCCHOC Task Force’s mandate to include the impact of the war on drugs, and use other venues (Common Council or County Board Committees) to begin an open and honest dialogue about the direct costs and collateral damage caused by waging the war on drugs.

Paul Mozina, a retired IT professional and community activist.

Categories: Op-Ed, Public Safety

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