Should Police Officers Publicly Advocate for Changing Drug Laws?
Bryan Gonzales, a young Border Patrol agent in Deming, NM was having a bad day. He was in his agency vehicle complaining to another agent that if marijuana was legalized, drug violence on the US/Mexico border would be diminished. He also made comments interpreted by his co-worker to be sympathetic toward Mexicans crossing the border illegally. His colleague reported him to the chain of command. Gonzales was fired for “having personal views contrary to agency policy.”
During that discussion, Gonzales also discussed an organization called LEAP, that is, Law Enforcement Against Prohibition. LEAP began as an effort of 5 law enforcement officers in 2002 to a current membership list of over 48,000 members. A number of LEAP members have been disciplined or terminated from their jobs for joining the organization. Remember, they do not stand accused of using illegal drugs, but rather have been disciplined for publicly advocating for marijuana legalization.
Irrespective of whether one is for or against the legalization of marijuana, the question at hand is whether officers should be disciplined for exercising personal first amendment rights to free speech by joining a pro-legalization organization.
One side would say that officers are paid to uphold the law. A public declaration against a current law defames the name of law enforcement itself. How can an officer enforce a law that he has publicly said he disagrees with?
The other side of the argument cites free speech rights guaranteed under the Constitution. However, would advocates be supporting those same rights if a law enforcement member joined the KKK or the American Nazi Party, or made racist statements on a Facebook page which identified him or her as a member of law enforcement? Should this police officer keep his or her job working in a multi-cultural community?
What about an officer exercising his or her right to free speech by attending a city council meeting in uniform and complaining about the chain of command? Is that free speech or insubordination?
This time, I’m not so sure what I think, so I’ll leave in LET member’s capable hands. Should law enforcement officers be able to join LEAP? I’d love to see your reaction.
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