Recommendations for a New Administration

Justice and Police Reform for Safer, More Secure Societies

New York Times columnist James "Scotty" Reston famously quipped that "Americans will do anything for Latin America, except read about it." Lately, one cannot say that. American readers have, indeed, grown fascinated by the struggle against drug-fueled organized crime in Central America and Mexico.  Why?  At least in its Colombian incarnation, what Richard Nixon labeled the "war on drugs" has been part and parcel of our relationship with Latin America for almost half a century. Why do we care more now?  Is it our interest or our interests that have changed?  In fact, we have begun to redefine our interests.  While the United States has done a great deal over the last decades to help combat rising crime in Latin America, now it is clear that if a new administration does not accelerate and refocus its programs exclusively on citizen security in the region, it could prove costly in an unexpected quarter—at the polls.  If the results of the 2012 elections prove anything, it is that our Latino population and its concerns will define victory in the next campaign, given rapid changes in the U. S. demographic profiles.  Here is what the new administration should do:

  • Focus exclusively on our partners' justice systems, dropping efforts to use engagement to prosecute cases in the United States;
  • On counternarcotics, drop the quarantine paradigm; kilos seized have become the "body count" of the war on drugs, with as little relationship to success.  Focus exclusively on safe streets and citizen safety;
  • Make U.S. states and municipalities the exclusive implementers of our citizen security programs.  The feds can write the checks, but they do not have the skills our partners need; and
  • Put the State Department in charge.  These are assistance programs, not law enforcement.

David T. Johnson