Gil Puder: drug-peace cop

Outspoken Vancouver Police Officer Gil Puder died of cancer on November 12, 1999 at the age of 40. Puder, a decorated 18-year veteran of the force and an instructor at the BC Police Academy, gained prominent media attention in April 1998, when he spoke at a Fraser Institute conference in Vancouver. Despite threats and written orders from his Chief of Police, Constable Puder spoke eloquently and at length about the need for an immediate end to the drug war.
Puder’s talk, called Recovering Our Honour: Why Policing Must Reject the War on Drugs, formed the basis for many further articles and interviews in a variety of media. He became a popular and provocative interview, and his position as a respected police officer lent great authority to his statements.

“While strongly believing in devotion to duty,” said Puder, “I subordinate the unique requirements of my profession to my responsibilities as a human being, a parent and Canadian citizen who has no desire to raise his children in a country torn by needless criminality.”

Memorial mix

Puder’s memorial service made for a strange mix of uniformed police officers and pro-pot activists. Marc Emery was in attendance, and quipped “I haven’t been around that many cops since Hemp BC was raided.”

During the service, Puder’s brother told the story of how he had been interviewed by a senior police officer when Puder was first applying to be a cop. Gil had told his brother to “tell the truth,” and so when he was asked if Gil had used marijuana, he replied “Yes, the stash is in the freezer.” The officer had only suggested they get rid of it, as he was going to be giving Gil a job offer.

The cops all laughed at the anecdote, and then laughed harder when it was explained how they had disposed of the buds by making cookies for their local basketball team.

Yet although the laughter and grief of these officers was genuine, there had been hostility from at least some of his fellow cops, when Puder had continually appeared in the media speaking against the drug war and “overzealous, careerist” narcotic officers. Puder derided “entrenched police culture” and called police anti-drug efforts “worse than useless, they’re counterproductive.”

“Deified police officers confronting demonized drug users is a recipe for abuse,” concluded Puder.

Police Chief Chambers repeatedly threatened Puder with disciplinary action, but never actually did anything other than rant. His written orders to Puder demanded that he stop “bringing discredit upon the reputation of the Vancouver police department.”

Police benefits

In his initial talk and subsequent interviews, Puder explained his belief that marijuana should be immediately legalized, and that a legal and controlled drug supply should be coupled with health and eduction programs.

Yet Puder also argued relentlessly that it is police who benefit most from the drug war, and who are as a result corrupted and co-opted by it.

Puder claimed that the drug war gives cops lots of valuable overtime and simple arrests. “Maximizing arrests maximizes earning power,” he explained, adding that “drug-related arrests can be very easy, with hundreds of available identifiable targets on city streets. Arrests usually involve poor, hungry people on street corners or in rooming houses and filth-strewn alleyways.”

Puder explained that officers with lots of drug possession busts quickly climb the promotion ladder. “Careerists use the same, often meaningless arrest statistics as performance measures to advance their rank and salary.”

Puder, a former SWAT team officer, had also discussed the militarization of police in fighting the drug war.

“Why is it that those teams are being used on a daily basis, sometimes several times a day, for drug raids for marijuana?” he asked. “I mean, come on. Let’s wake up here.”

Puder questioned the “institutionalized hypocrisy” of a police force which demonizes marijuana, while most of its officers have used the herb themselves.

Gil Puder was an honour to his badge and a rare man indeed. His bravery, honesty and outspoken integrity will be sorely missed in Vancouver.

? Crossfire: A Street Cop’s Stand Against Violence, Corruption and the War on Drugs, is scheduled for publication by Douglas and McIntyre next year.