The sad tale of the cop and the drug pusher
So, once again an Aspen police chief gets “tough on crime” with a “big” drug bust.Fifty cops waving guns, bursting into Aspen restaurants in the middle of the afternoon – a little aprs-ski entertainment to keep the folks amused.Hoo boy! Ain’t we cool!About once every decade, some Aspen police chief just can’t help himself. Maybe it’s the law enforcement peer pressure. Or maybe it’s the droning rumble of his deep down lizard brain that finally gets to him.Whatever triggers it, suddenly he’s Robocop. “Must … get … evil … drug … dealers.”Back in the early ’70s – you know, the good old days – Aspen had a genuine, museum-quality redneck police chief who brought in an undercover cop.The undercover guy showed up, just one more hippie in the middle of the hippie era, hung out for a few months, made lots of friends – and then one day he suddenly appeared with a gun and a badge, kicking in doors and arresting all his friends.Some people said, “Good work! It had to be done.” A lot of other people felt betrayed, outraged.In the end, did it make any difference?Well, sure, for the people who were busted. But it didn’t make the slightest dent in what went on in town. People who wanted to get high still got high. Life went on.A few years later, some federal DEA eager beavers snuck back in – undercover, of course – and set up another “big” bust.This time, one of the undercover guys almost got shot by a local lawman who hadn’t been told what was going down. (Sound familiar?) The two of them wound up pointing guns at each other, fingers on the triggers.I was the police reporter then, and I interviewed the local guy afterwards. He told me, “No one except me and the guy who washes my underwear will ever know how close I came to shooting that son of a bitch.”And when it was all over, did it make any difference?Well, if the local guy had pulled the trigger, it would have made a permanent difference to someone. But, since he didn’t, life went on, just like before.In fact, the only time I can recall anything happening to an actual major drug dealer in town was when Steve Grabow got blown up in the Aspen Club parking lot. By all accounts, he was a major dealer. That was a serious event.The cops, of course, had nothing to do with it.The point is, we keep having these penny-ante drug busts that don’t do anything except make a few cops feel good about themselves. They arrest a couple of small-time dealers, a couple of hapless users, and they feel like they’re “real” cops.This time was no different.If nailing a handful of dishwashers and seizing a few thousand dollars and a couple of ounces of cocaine counts as a “major bust” here, then we don’t really have much of a drug problem, do we? But if it wasn’t a “major bust,” then what the hell were more than 50 cops doing terrorizing the town with guns in their hands? What’s it all about? Here’s the sad truth:Undercover drug busts are the “drug of choice” for cops. It’s how cops get high. They just can’t help themselves.They know they shouldn’t do it. They’ve been told not to. But then those slick DEA pushers come swaggering around, hissing, “Come on, kid. Try it. You’ll like it. The first one’s on us.”The local cop wavers. “I don’t know … the city council told me not to.”Then the pusher clinches the deal. “All the other cops are doing it. Are you a real cop? Or are you a pussy?”It takes character to resist that kind of peer pressure.And, gee, you know, a lot of people say undercover busts are good, they have health benefits for the community. Sure, some people say they’re harmful, but … gosh, how can you know who’s right?When you get right down to it, it’s a question of character.And, sad to say, Aspen Police Chief Loren Ryerson didn’t have the strength to just say no.Andy Stone is former editor of The Aspen Times. His e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org
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