WASHINGTON – America is achieving historic successes in the war on drugs, and some high-tech gadgets may be helping to turn the tide, John P. Walters (search), the nation's drug czar, said on Wednesday.
"We've had use go down by 11 percent by teenagers over the last two years. We haven't seen that happen in 10 years — 400,000 less kids are using drugs in 2003 than in 2001," Walters told an audience attending a counter-drug technology exhibit in Washington, D.C.
Walters, whose official title is director of the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy (search), demonstrated some of the technology contributing to this success. Mini-buster contraband detectors, night vision kits and wiretap systems were among several items on display at the exhibit.
Police officers use the mini-buster, which is about the size of a chalkboard eraser, to find hidden drugs, money and other contraband tucked away in false compartments in cars, suitcases and other sealed areas. The technology is similar to that of a stud-finder, which detects density changes in walls.
Another tool is a drugwipe, which a police officer uses to wipe a surface to detect traces of marijuana, cocaine, opiates or amphetamines. If the drugs are present, the swab changes color.
"These technologies help state and local law enforcement work with the federal government to find and bring to justice those who market these drugs and it complements what we're doing outside of our borders and overseas," Walters said.
But not everyone is as pleased with the new technology. Advocates for changes in marijuana laws say that the equipment is not only invasive, but is misdirected at some individuals who don't deserve to be under surveillance.
"All of this stuff exists to some degree on the notion that we make our society better somehow by arresting and jailing people who use marijuana. When attempts to instrument that policy are intrusive and threaten people's liberties, that's a great concern to us. I think there has been a ratcheting up of some of these more intrusive methods," said Bruce Mirken, director of communications for the Marijuana Policy Project (search).
"The picture, overall, is frankly increasing desperation by the advocates of prohibition who resort to more extreme tactics, and it’s a great concern, but it's also a sign that they are losing the battle for public opinion," Mirken said
Previously, much of the high-tech gear was only available to federal law enforcement. The items are now being distributed free of charge to law enforcement agencies as part of a Technology Transfer Program (search) first enacted by Congress in 1998.
The Technology Transfer Program provides state and local law enforcement agencies with equipment and training for deployments and operations. All equipment is transferred to recipient agencies at no cost and becomes the permanent property of that organization
Former Rep. Bob Barr (search), R-Ga., now a civil liberties advocate, said that on a recent visit to a small West Georgia police department, the chief showed off several shiny new M-16 rifles provided by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (search).
"The federal government is encouraging the militarization of local police forces by giving away weaponry and providing advisers," Barr said, commenting on general trends in policing, not only on anti-drug policies.
State and local agencies can receive the tools after participating in mandatory training sessions. More than 6,000 agencies are currently involved in the program.
Fox News' Mariel Stern contributed to this report.