Radical Rant: LEAPing into a Broader Mission


Photo by Getty Images

Photo by Getty Images

“I gotta say, Neill, this is the only time I’ve ever enjoyed being in the back of a cop’s car!”

It was 2014, and I was getting a ride to the airport with Major Neill Franklin, a retired law enforcement professional with 34 years of experience working the mean streets of Baltimore. It was his rental car, and the only time I’ve sat in a car’s back seat with my hands free while talking to a cop.

Have you seen HBO’s incredible series, The Wire? Neill Franklin lived it. He was with Maryland State Police for 23 years, working undercover narcotics and training other drug cops. He was then recruited by the Baltimore Police Department to reorganize its training division.

I was there in Minneapolis with Franklin to speak at an event for Minnesota NORML. He is the executive director of my favorite law enforcement organization, LEAP. His organization of former cops, prosecutors, judges and prison guards has provided public speakers to rebut the War on Drugs as a model of ineffective and counter-productive policing.

Franklin, Stroup, Belville, Quast

For years now, speakers from LEAP have been bi-monthly interview guests on a regular segment on my podcast entitled, “Cops Say Legalize Drugs.” I’m honored to count a few of the LEAP speakers as good friends. So, I am very excited to see LEAP broadening its mission by shedding its Law Enforcement Against Prohibition chrysalis to become a new Law Enforcement Action Partnership butterfly.

It’s a development I’ve been watching since around the time of that Minnesota gig.

It was February 2014, and there had already been numerous high-profile deaths of citizens at the hands of police. Then, on August 9, 2014, the fatal police shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, and the law enforcement response to subsequent protests, sparked the Black Lives Matter movement.

Through Brown’s execution by police and the others that followed—Tamir Rice in Cleveland, Eric Garner in Staten Island, Walter Scott in North Charleston, Freddie Gray in Franklin’s home of Baltimore—the LEAP speakers I interviewed expressed not only how the War on Drugs creates a police-vs-citizens distrust that contributes to these tragedies, but how this was bigger than just the ill effects of drug prohibition.

Over the next couple of years at various events, I’d see Franklin or another LEAP board member, Lt. Commander Diane Goldstein, a retired hostage negotiator and gang task force leader for over 20 years with the Redondo Beach, California, police department. In our private talks, they told me of how LEAP was going to be evolving into a new organization with a broader mission that could address these issues in policing—beyond just ending prohibition.

“You’ll keep the LEAP acronym, I hope,” I remember saying to the two of them. “Perhaps ‘Law Enforcement Advocating Policies’?” I suggested. I’m glad they came up with a better name.

According to their press release, “The Law Enforcement Action Partnership’s mission is to unite and mobilize the voice of law enforcement in support of drug policy and criminal justice reforms that will make communities safer by focusing law enforcement resources on the greatest threats to public safety, promoting alternatives to arrest and incarceration, addressing the root causes of crime, and working toward healing police-community relations.”

“Through this evolution to cover a broader range of justice reform issues,” Franklin wrote to me by email, “LEAP, as the Law Enforcement Action Partnership, will position itself before a much larger and more diverse audience. This creates many more opportunities for connecting the dots between our dysfunctional justice system and the war on drugs.”

“Our new mission is solutions-oriented,” Goldstein told me by email, “and encompasses anything in the justice system that needs to be improved in order to reduce crime and help victims – diversion programs, like Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion, sentencing reform, abolishing civil asset forfeiture, and improving police training are just a few of the areas we’ll be addressing from now on.”

LEAP is still going to remain that one group of law enforcers we cannabis consumers can count on to help us end marijuana prohibition.

Seattle City Attorney Pete Holmes, one of the driving forces in passing marijuana legalization in Washington State, is the latest addition to LEAP’s Speaker Bureau. If you need a speaker with credentials like Holmes to deliver the message about legalization at your public event (or my podcast audience), LEAP will still have us covered.

Now, however, LEAP speakers can go beyond prohibition to address overall police reform.

“Speakers with expertise in narcotics enforcement and prosecution will continue to educate the public about exit strategies for the drug war,” Goldstein told me. “While speakers with expertise and passion for reform in other areas of the criminal justice system will recommend fixes to the issues they know best.”

You can learn more about the new LEAP online at leap.cc. Follow LEAP on Twitter at @PoliceForReform and on Facebook at LawEnforcementAction.

Previously in Radical Rant: Marijuana’s Imminent Trump-A-Palooza

Click here for all of Russ Belville’s columns.

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