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DEA's "Project Safeguard" Latest Salvo in Failed US War on Drugs

"It is astonishing that in the midst of a pandemic and calls for police reform, the DEA is using the same old heavy-handed tactics to address a public health issue."

Drug Enforcement Administration police are seen as demonstrators marched to Freedom Plaza from Capitol Hill to honor George Floyd and victims of racial injustice on Saturday, June 6, 2020.

Drug Enforcement Administration police are seen as demonstrators marched to Freedom Plaza from Capitol Hill to honor George Floyd and victims of racial injustice on Saturday, June 6, 2020. (Photo: Tom Williams/CQ-Roll Call, Inc via Getty Images)

The federal Drug Enforcement Administration was accused Wednesday of furthering the failed war on drugs with a new initiative that purports to reduce violence but in fact rejects proven methods to achieve actual harm reduction in order to tout high arrest numbers and seized assets.

The DEA announced the initiative, dubbed Project Safeguard, on Tuesday. Since launching in August, the agency said, it has brought about "more than 700 investigations, over 1,500 arrests—including nearly 40 DEA fugitives, more than 2,130 seized firearms, nearly $24 million in seized assets, and more than 6,100 kilograms of illicit drugs."

According to The Associated Press,

Such operations are common for the federal government, but the issue of law-and-order is a major component of President Donald Trump's reelection campaign. The initiative, nicknamed Project Safeguard, comes as Trump is touting the federal government's involvement in other operations as an answer to a spike in crime in cities nationwide, and to showcase what he says is his law-and-order prowess, claiming he's countering lawlessness in Democrat-run cities. [...]

The agency has been roiled in recent years by allegations of misconduct, including a number of agents who have been prosecuted for bribery and other offenses, and allegations of racial harassment.

The federal agency's announcement included a statement from Acting DEA Administrator Timothy  Shea, who, as interim head of the U.S. Attorney's Office for the District of Columbia, previously joined Attorney General William Barr in intervening to reduce the recommended prison sentence for Trump ally Roger Stone and sought to dismiss charges against ex-national security adviser Michael Flynn.

"Drug trafficking and violent crime are inextricably linked," Shea said, adding, "Neighborhoods across our country are terrorized by violent drug trafficking organizations that have little regard for human life, and profit from the pain and suffering of our people.

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"Along with our law enforcement partners," asserted Shea, "DEA is committed to safeguarding the health and safety of our communities."

Maritza Perez, director of the Office of National Affairs at the Drug Policy Alliance (DPA), suggested that's a far stretch from reality.

"It is astonishing that in the midst of a pandemic and calls for police reform, the DEA is using the same old heavy-handed tactics to address a public health issue. Treating drug trafficking offenses as 'homicides' is not the answer to reducing overdoses," said Perez.

Perez put the blame for increasing overdose rates during the pandemic on the nation's failure to "adequately fund harm reduction services and treatment in favor of an ineffective and unproven punitive approach."

Hope for "any real progress in curtailing the underground drug market or aiding people who use drugs and want help" should not be expected from the new initiative, she added.

Instead, Perez called for the funding used for Project Safeguard to "be deployed toward evidence-based and health-centered approaches that have the potential to actually save lives and reduce harm."

DPA has been a fierce critic of the DEA, stating on its website, "In the last 50 years, it's been a tremendous waste of resources and left a wake of devastation in the United States and abroad."

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