Privacy SOS

Government figures show police nearly trip over one another in seven out of twenty investigations

Cops nationwide are very busy with the drug war. So busy, in fact, that they regularly come close to tripping over each other in pursuit of suspects. According to a government official who reviewed internal figures, out of every 20 operations entered into federal information sharing systems, "seven of them resulted in a conflict with other operations, which could have put officers in danger, being unaware of each other’s operations."

Seven out of twenty.

The figure comes from one of the many post-9/11 information sharing efforts spearheaded by the federal government, called RISSafe. A government information sharing manager explains the project:

RISSafe is an officer safety event deconfliction program officially introduced nationwide to law enforcement on July 4, 2008. RISSafe provides a secure environment for agency officers or staff members to enter operational information in an effort to warn officers of potential conflicts when multiple law enforcement operations from various agencies are planned within the same timeframe and geographical area.

In other words, the system works to make sure cops don't arrest or shoot each other when they're working undercover, or otherwise screw up another agency's investigation. "RISSafe has become an invaluable tool to warn of potential “Blue-on-Blue” situations prior to engaging in high risk operations such as undercover activities, arrests, stings, sweeps, drug buy/busts and other situations that officers face daily," the government official writes.

Out of the 750,000 operations entered into the system between the summer of 2008 and fall of 2014, an astounding seven in twenty returned conflicts. There are so many different, well-staffed and funded law enforcement agencies pursuing the drug war these days, they need a special information sharing system to make sure they aren't just out there chasing each other around all day.

But even though there are so many police fighting the war on drugs that they routinely come close to busting each other, they haven't made a dent in the drug trade—despite spending one trillion dollars and eroding millions of people's civil liberties in the process. Drugs are cheaper, more accessible, and more potent than ever before.

© 2021 ACLU of Massachusetts.