Kentucky ACLU Criticizes Large-Scale Police Targeting of 'Low Level' Drug Suspects
The Kentucky State Police embarked Friday on what officials are calling “the largest one-day drug round-up in agency history"—but the state ACLU suggests that the busts are misguided.
Dubbed “Operation Black Friday,” state police were targeting nearly 500 people were being targeted for arrest across the state on charges mostly related to drug trafficking, KSP spokesman Sgt. Richard Saint-Blancard said.
“This actually came to fruition as a direct result of phone calls, messages and letters and tips that we received from people in Kentucky,” Saint-Blancard said. “With their help, this has been made a reality, so we’re working very hard to … put these people in jail where they need to be.”
The operation is a result of collaboration with local police departments and federal agencies such as the Drug Enforcement Administration. Saint-Blancard said that anonymous crime tip reporting initiatives like its 1-800-DOPE-TIP hotline and “Text-a-Tip” program.
In a statement, KSP Commissioner Rodney Brewer said that the bulk of those targeted by the dragnet are comprised of low-level offenders.
“Citizens are tired of perpetual offenders who are disrupting neighborhoods and participating in other criminal mischief,” Brewer said. While many of the arrests today are low level targets, it is very probably that we will obtain information from them that will lead to arrests of more significant dealers and drug operations.”
But the ACLU of Kentucky criticized the KSP’s focus on low-level offenders, and argues that while something needs to be done about drug abuse, arresting users who are suffering from addiction isn’t helping the problem.
An ACLU report earlier this year shows that "these types of arrests needlessly ensnare hundreds of thousands of people in the criminal justice system at a tremendous human and financial cost,” said Amber Duke, spokeswoman for the ACLU of Kentucky, in a statement.
“The money and valuable police time involved in these types of operations could be better spent on measures that keep communications safe, investigating serious and often unsolved crimes and reinvested into public health programs, including drug treatment.”
Also, in Kentucky, African-Americans are six times likelier to be arrested for marijuana possession than whites—despite similar levels of marijuana use, according to an ACLU report released earlier this year.
But Saint-Blancard said that the arrests of street-level buyers can lead to the apprehension of mid- and high-level drug dealers, and indicated that today’s operation is an example of how the nation’s War on Drugs is working.
“I say that we don’t get weary … in doing the right things, for the rights reasons, at the right time,” he said. “I can tell you, and for those that have never been the victim of crimes, I can tell you that drugs are a big part of criminal activity apart and beyond just drugs in our communities,” adding that other crimes are tied to drug usage.
Saint-Blancard could not offer information on a breakdown of the projected 775 charges, nor which drugs were involved. He could not say how many of the 479 targets have been apprehended since the operation began at 9 a.m. Friday, or if all the targets would successfully be apprehended.
The majority of the targets are located in Southeastern Kentucky, according to a map of the arrests provided by the KSP. The largest number of them—57—were in Perry County.
He said that the KSP would release that information as it comes throughout the day.
Update: The KSP now reports that as of this afternoon, Operation Black Friday has resulted in the arrests of 176 out of 479 total potential targets, according to figures provided by 10 of the operation's 18 arrest teams.