L.A. County Sheriff’s Deputy Accused of Selling Drugs, Offering Protection to Dealers

The FBI arrested Los Angeles County Sheriff's Deputy Kenneth Collins, along with three other men, during a sting operation this week. Collins thought he was arriving for a drug deal. Instead he was charged with drug trafficking.

The Los Angeles Times reports that Collins was recorded discussing "his extensive drug trafficking network, past criminal conduct, and willingness to accept bribes to use his law enforcement status for criminal purposes." He was allegedly involved in protection for a marijuana grow house (pot is now legal in California) and in the delivery of meth (still illegal across the country).

The allegations against Collins illustrate a fundamental flaw in government prohibition: Where sufficient demand exists for a prohibited good or service, there will be incentives to elude law enforcement—and law enforcement officers are not themselves exempt from such incentives. For them, in fact, the incentives can be more powerful, given the ways police work is shielded from accountability. Civil service protections and union contract provisions have ensured that many departments are unable to discipline unscrupulous officers appropriately.

Collins was also an instructor in life skills for former inmates. According to the Times, one of the other men charged with Collins appears to have been a student in the program.

Collins' employer, the Sheriff's Department, insisted it informed federal authorities about the accusations against Collins and was cooperating with the investigation. Collins remained on the payroll. He has now been placed on leave, and according to the Sheriff's Department will be suspended without pay during the criminal case.

The Sheriff's Department should not be obliged to wait for a criminal verdict before firing Collins. Criminal cases require proof beyond a reasonable doubt, because they involve government trying to deprive individuals of their freedom. Employment decisions should have far lower burdens of proof: Employment with the government is a privilege, not a right.

In 2016, the most recent year available on the OpenGovUS project, Collins' salary was reported as $130,145, plus $54,000 worth of benefits. The salary includes a base of $102,226, plus nearly $20,000 in overtime, $5,000 in "other earnings," including shift pay, allowances, and bonuses, and $3,000 in "leave time payouts." His earnings were more than three times the median salary in Los Angeles County.