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Ex-drug Cop Goes To Pot

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A Highly Successful Former Texas Officer Helps People He Used To Bust To Avoid Arrest

In America's war on drugs, former Texas top cop Barry Cooper has strayed a long way from serving the law.

Where once the young narcotics officer was a celebrated hero with an uncanny nose for finding illegal stashes, today he has become an outlaw's legend, packaging and selling secrets of the badge to keep users and dealers out of jail.

Just what turned a decorated American cop into a guardian angel of the drug world depends on who you ask.

Fellow officers suggest he has led an untraditional existence since he turned in his gun several year ago -- including as a "cage fight" promoter -- and several minor arrests, which didn't amount to a conviction. Critics contend his just-launched line of Never Get Busted Again tell-all DVDs are a way to make a fast buck -- at $24.95 an order.

But Cooper -- who, for an additional $10, will ship out a bonus Barry's Hidden Compartment DVD -- believes it's more like penance for all the lives he fears he ruined during a career as a front-line narcotics investigator.

"Our war on drugs is really a war on people," the father of four says on his cellphone from Texas. "I realized that after I had children. That I was dragging mothers and fathers away from their children for a bag of pot.

"( For awhile ) my need for adrenaline and fame overrode my conscience."

This week here in Canada, a report in the HIV/AIDS Policy and Law Review concluded Ottawa's war on drugs has been a failure. And that our government counts too much on cops, rather than finding ways to help people cut drugs from their lives.

Conclusions

Cooper -- even while gaining a reputation as, according to a former boss, the "best narcotics officer in the country" -- came to even harsher conclusions about his part in America's anti-drug mission.

After being trained by the DEA and making more than 800 felony and misdemeanour narcotic arrests, his new pitch is that America's homeland drug war is not only going badly, it's damaging "good people."

And, a reminder -- nowhere in the U.S. is the law larger than in a state where everything is sky big. Including Cooper's undeniable record as a celebrated cop.

At one time, he was one of the top highway interdiction officers in small town east Texas -- seizing a record haul of drugs and holding a county record on the less than 8 km of highway he patrolled.

His one-time boss, former Big Sandy Police Chief Bill Hardwick, still talks with respect about Cooper's single bust of 11 kilos of marijuana in a van he pulled over. But Hardwick, who's had Cooper at his house for dinner, believes his former star should now take a long, hard look in the mirror.

During his time as a lawman, Cooper worked on drug task forces, became a K-9 handler and schooled fellow officers on how to catch drug users and mules. In fact, the "hidden compartment" DVD he's now hawking through his website -- nevergetbusted.com, which does not ship to Canada -- is the same one he used in those classes.

His site includes television clips from when he was a poster boy for the anti-drug cause. Holding a large brick of seized pot, the seams on his uniform as straight as a highway line, he was an impressive figure on the local nightly news.

He was, few argue, a talented Texas badge.

"Now, he's just an embarrassment," says local Upshur County Sheriff Anthony Betterton, who knew Cooper during his years in uniform, but never worked alongside him.

As different law enforcement agencies now look into Cooper's wares, to see whether he's breaking any of the laws he once swore to uphold, police officers are concerned his DVDs will just make their jobs that much harder.

"But ( police officers ) also know it's just a scheme," Sheriff Betterton tells me from his office in Gilmer, Tex.

Mixed messages

Cooper, he continues, is sending out mixed messages -- that he's just helping pot users even though harder drug pushers can use the same counter-measures.

For his part, Cooper answers he's against drugs like methamphetamine, cocaine and crack, but that they will always be around, like them or not.

He says he doesn't mind or smoke pot -- although he adds, once his kids have moved out, he may. The 37-year-old dad, in his school days, briefly experimented with marijuana and harder drugs. And he tells his kids he'd rather they smoke up than drink and die in a car accident.

"I know lawyers who do cocaine," he says, arguing that most drug users he's come in contact with are not violent and don't hang around school yards selling to kids.

"Let's ( make room ) in the jails for the child molesters."

He is a man, if you buy what he's selling, who feels guilty about his part in being on the legal side of the law -- seizing more than 50 vehicles and taking in about $500,000 in cash and assets over eight years.

"I hope that considering the families I destroyed, I can, what's that word, expedientially, help even more now," he says. "If I hurt 50 families, maybe I can ( now ) help five million."

He's had a few run-ins with police since leaving the force -- a decision he says came after becoming a liability when he arrested a local mayor's son for meth possession and a councilman for marijuana.

His own arrests have included a bar fight and, he claims, not returning two rented DVDs.

He swears he has been followed and that military aircraft have flown low over his home.

"I've seen how people's rights can be trampled."

His response apparently now comes with a money-back guarantee. His popular DVDs include what he promises are secret drug enforcement tactics, how to avoid being profiled and "where not to hide your stash."

A sniff of his goods is curious, if not humourous.

Want to avoid a police dog's inquiring nose, just carry a cat in your car.

"If you're in a college, take the fraternity stickers off the car," he continues. "If you have long hair put it up in a cap ... take your earrings out."

And since he assures you can't overdose on marijuana, don't carry more than you can eat during a traffic stop.

If law enforcement agents find his business distasteful -- though he swears their

e-mails to him are split down the middle -- they may push the alarm button when they see his planned next line of insider blue DVDs. He wants to sell one that will teach criminals how to spot informants and undercover cops.

He does not flinch when I suggest this will endanger agents working on everything from biker probes to terrorism investigations, saying: "I've done undercover work.It's actually safe."

Just walk away

Unlike the climaxes of movies, when an officer is found out in the real world, he assures, the dealers almost always just walk away.

Once again, for Cooper, the lines between society's watchdogs and lawbreakers have blurred over the years.

"When I worked undercover, I met very nice people," he recalls. "I was totally tricking them, only to ruin their lives later."

There was a time when Barry Cooper knew where he stood -- backed up by the law and a brotherhood. Now, he bursts forth from pot leaves on a cover of Never Get Busted Again. He's sure he's finally serving and protecting the people who need it the most.

But among many Texas officers who still wear a badge, Barry Cooper has simply become the wrong arm of the law.

Source: Toronto Sun (CN ON)
Copyright: 2007, Canoe Limited Partnership.
Contact: editor@tor.sunpub.com
Website: Toronto Sun
 
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