I was sent this paper by a professor at NYU who I hold in the highest regard. While local authorities all around the world continue to argue about the best way to “secure” festivals, from crime and medical harm, the Aussies have done some real work. Published in this month’s International Journal of Drug Policy, Caitlin Elizabeth Hughes, Vivienne Moxham-Halla, Alison Rittera, Don Weatherburnb, Robert MacCounc of the National Drug & Alcohol Research Centre at the University of New South Wales in Sydney have made a fascinating discovery. One that, while novel, will seem obvious immediately once you understand what they proved. The core assumption they sought to evaluate the validity of seems almost common sense, yet has been at the core of the West’s strategy : Police can deter, discourage or prevent drug offending/consumption. Given that we’ve already spent $1.2 Billion in 2017 already to police and prohibit, you’d hope that the core tenet of “Police presence reduces drug offense” would be bullet-proof.
Over 4000 people took part in a Drug Policing Survey over a 5 month period. This survey asked takers (who had self-identified as regular festival/club attendees who consumed recreational drugs or had friends who did) to evaluate how certain types of police presence at clubs and festivals would cause them to change their drug taking tactics. As opposed to treating party people as some skittish, crack-addicted group that couldn’t be reasoned with, Dr. Hughes & her team depended on the festival/club attendees to evaluate scenarios where evading law enforcement was the goal. This might seem a little subversive to Americans, but even in cybersecurity, probing weaknesses using data from blackhats is worth its weight in gold. And this study was no exception.
Five different experimental vignettes were presented to the surveytakers. They were hypothetical scenarios that included an assortment of policing strategies: High Visibility Policing, Riot Policing, Collaborative Policing & Policing with Drug Detection Dogs, and a control scenario (No police presence). Essentially, how would your drug consumption or purchasing change if one of these police presence schema was used at the club or festival you attended. While any police presence led to a 4.6% reduction in overall illicit drug offending, it led to merely a reduction in people willing to carry drugs into an event or carry them on their person. Which makes sense. Ask any party person you know, they’ll probably regale you with tales of very minor substance use inside the club, maybe a few key bumps or lines in the bathroom. Very few people have the cajones to bring drugs into festivals or clubs that have big time security. They just assume they’ll purchase whatever they need inside the venue. And that’s exactly what the researchers found.
Given police presence, purchasing of drugs increased significantly within festival grounds. High Visibility Policing reduced overall drug offending, while Drug Detection dogs reduced drug possession the most, which makes sense. If you can see cops everywhere, you’re less likely to engage in risky shit. However, if you see drug dogs, you’re more likely to not carry, especially into the festival. And here’s the kicker. While you’re less likely to carry, you’re much more likely to buy and consume at the event.
This leads to all sorts of terrible shit, as people don’t test drugs they buy to consume immediately. Moreover, when you buy drugs from a dealer you’re likely to never have contact with again, because you’re not a regular customer, it’s that much more likely they’re going to sell you some bunk. If you’re a regular reader, you can probably guess why this concerns me. The idea that policing is not only ineffective, but also increasing the chance that drug consumers are going to take untested, is a significant departure from the “police just send drug use underground” talking point that we’ve been dealing with for years.
The truth is way more complicated of course. People do drugs in the safest way they’re able, exposing themselves to as little liability as they can while still achieving their ends. If that means buying LSD and taking it while they’re standing in line, they do that. If they prefer a drug that’s got a shorter duration, like MDMA or cocaine, some might be down to bring drugs in, but most are not willing to take that risk. That leads to the massive market opportunity that drug dealers at festivals & clubs exploit. This is simple market economics that most prohibitionists are unwilling to admit. Dealers, like life in Jurassic Park, find a way. Neatly tethered to the events of BPM, criminals will always find a way to ensure they profit from market demand. And in this case, our insatiable demand for drugs can’t even be stopped by the “North Korea with neon lighting” levels of policing that events like Electric Zoo have put forth. High definition cameras to capture buys, drug dogs and high visibility severe response policing can put a damper on drug possession or even perhaps trafficking into the event, but these types of enforcement mechanisms can’t stop consumption.
If anyone believes these findings don’t apply to the USA, I’d love to hear your reasoning. This is the type of bipartisan, public-health focused research that I think we should be relying on. As we’ve seen over the last month, attempting to appeal to morality, ethics, or some form of value system will fail and fail hard during the reign of Orange Xerxes. The only chance we have at winning is to force the conversation entirely into data and effects of current policies on the ground. A study like this is something that police, “family first” organizations and even straight up anti-drug advocates have a hard time responding to. It allows us to move the conversation from “What should America be like?” to “What actually works?” By doing so, you neatly remove the “People shouldn’t be doing drugs!” talking point from the repertoire of the advocate you’re debating with. Even if you believe people shouldn’t be doing drugs, you can’t ignore the fact that the policing schemes that are discussed in the study simply don’t work to achieve those ends.
There will always be people whose cognitive dissonance is so large that this will fall on deaf ears. But, for those who are willing to listen, discussing this study might just be a step in the door with your cop uncle or Catholic cousin. We need all the help we can get, so tread softly, avoid people who steal your bandwidth, and find consensus wherever you can. 2017 demands it.
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Keep in mind Burners who and what, you are dealing with in Pershing County: small town big fish in little pond syndrome. Lazy, good old boys mentality that is easily bought off. A hot air spewing sheriff who comes from an oil drilling background. The Mormon Mafia ‘fix’ is in via the DA’s office. Jerry Allen and Bryce Shields are no friends to Burning Man but if your lawyers dig enough, they’ll find enough to shut them both up. Long track records of nothing. Read the manifesto from former sheriff against Judge Jim Shirley. Don’t hesitate to call them out. There is so much dirt and cover up in Pershing County you could hire Barrick and Newmont for earth moving….
I’m a regular festival attendee from SF California. My GF and I frequently attend camping/outdoor festivals and Burner-style parties. I probably live in a festival bubble out here since I’ve never once seen drug dogs or what I consider to be “heavy” police presence, which is mainly due to my avoidance of events/parties that require this kind of authoritative presence. Only at larger and heavily commercialized events like Coachella or EDM/rave-style parties do I ever see or hear of major law enforcement. Even still, those guys are mostly just walking around to keep the peace and confiscate booze in order to make us buy overpriced crap drinks. The popular rave-parties, however, will enlist undercover agents looking to bust dealers at the point of sale. First off, if you are going to an event and know you want to party, don’t show up empty-handed putting your health and well-being at the mercy of a dealer that gives two shits about you or your “experience.” Second, when you make a quick new friend don’t be so quick to share sensitive information with them. Maybe they had a cool hat on or you were both waiting in line for the bathroom and they seemed cool so it wasn’t a big deal to answer honestly when they asked, “you know where I can find molly?” Do like our President does and provide “alternative facts” by saying, “no man, sorry.” Don’t even reveal that someone else in your group may have extra. The rave-parties may still conduct thorough body pat-downs and bag checks, but this has never stopped me or anyone else I’ve partied with from bringing in treats. If anything, it makes us more creative about stashing it. Plus, those doing the searching are not the police. They are underpaid security guards who probably wanna come in and party or wish they were at home watching episodes of Narcos. The burner-style parties only ask if we have stowaways or dogs in our car, that’s it. In the actual festival, you may see a single police car with two agents looking incredibly bored/entertained by the festival goers. Aside that, the main focus for safety is harm reduction, not persecution.
pro-tip: not sure if that cool new friend you just met is an undercover agent? look at their shoes. They may be able to blend into the crowd with a half-assed attempt at festival attire consisting of one glowstick and funky blue wig, but how many festival attendees do you know are wearing brand new tactical-style combat boots/sneakers. Besides their usual unhip attempts to locate drugs via outdated slang and inquires, those agents are probably required to wear state-issued footwear in case the shit hits the fan and they have to defend against the Taliban.