All hands on deck: NYPD, Feds in expanded anti-drug drive
In the newest phase of an ambitious New York City Police Department anti-drug initiative that has proved successful in northern Brooklyn, the central Bronx, and the Lower East Side of Manhattan, several Federal law enforcement agencies have joined the fight in an unprecedented attempt to break up gangs and deport illegal aliens in Washington Heights involved in the city’s drug trade, according to police officials.
Described as the cocaine hub of the region, Washington Heights is said to be the headquarters for some 5,000 drug dealers in about 150 organizations working out of 300 outside locations and 100 interior spots. It is the crack-distribution spot for gangs in at least three states.
“We’re dealing with the epicenter of cocaine and crack in the region,” said Chief Martin O’Boyle, head of the NYPD’s Organized Crime Control Bureau. “The organizations up there are entrenched, they have direct links to South America, and we have to devise tactics to deal with them.”
How much help the department will receive is still uncertain, but cooperation between the department and every major Federal law enforcement agency is expected.
Personnel from the FBI, the Drug Enforcement Administration, the Internal Revenue Service, the Federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms, the Secret Service, and the Customs Service began setting up a command center in northern Manhattan in early September, law enforcement officials said.
In addition to Federal agents, the plan also calls for the streets of Washington Heights to be flooded with at least 700 more officers.
So far, the Police Department has initiated a joint investigation with the U.S. Customs Service to look into dozens of stores that act as money transfer and laundering sites.
Joint investigations are also in the planning stages with both the FBI and the Drug Enforcement Administration. The agencies, which are investigating gangs in the neighborhood, will look into using the Federal racketeering laws to send dealers away for longer sentences.
“We have sophisticated electronic surveillance methods, the police have the excellent undercover officers, and the DEA brings an international component,” Lewis Schiliro, special agent in charge of the criminal division of the FBI’s New York office, told The New York Daily News.
The U.S. Marshals Service and the Secret Service will also play roles in the initiative. The marshals will join police warrant units in tracking down fugitives who have committed crimes in Manhattan and then fled to other states. And, in an attempt to disrupt communication between dealers, the Secret Service will join police in car-stop operations on bridges that connect the Bronx with northern Manhattan, searching for illegally cloned cell phones.
Raymond Kelly, a former New York police commissioner who is now the U.S. undersecretary of the Treasury for enforcement, said the “Secret Service can focus on cloning of cell phones, and the IRS can trace where the money goes, and there are shockingly large amounts of it.”
The element of the plan that appears to be generating the most controversy has been Police Commissioner Howard Safir’s request to U.S. Attorney General Janet Reno for the deployment of 100 uniformed U.S. Border Patrol agents. The request was at first applauded by Mayor Rudolph Giuliani, who urged the Federal Government to crack down on illegal immigrants who are committing crimes.
“The Federal Government should be doing precisely as Commissioner Safir is asking them to do,” the Mayor said. “Their resources should [be] going into finding, unfortunately, the thousands, and thousands who go through our jails every years, who sell drugs, commit violent crimes, and act in a way that is damaging to us all.”
But Giuliani, a former Federal prosecutor, later reversed himself, saying, “There doesn’t need to be a uniformed presence of the immigration service or of the Border Patrol in New York. What we’d like to get the Federal Government to do is concentrate on the drug dealers.”
Community leaders expressed concerns that a uniformed presence by Immigration and Naturalization Service agents would strike fear into the hearts of law-abiding immigrants. “INS being on the streets is really sending a message that [the crackdown] is not necessarily landing on the criminal’s territory but on the territory of the hardworking people of the community,” said Agustin Garcia, president of the Dominico-Hispanico Chamber of Commerce.
The Washington Heights plan is an expansion of a pilot program started by former Police Commissioner William J. Bratton in 1995 on the Lower East Side. A culmination of Bratton’s campaign to give neighborhood commanders more autonomy, put police where the crime is, and enforce quality-of-life offenses like public drinking to bring in suspects and recruit them as informers, the initiative was gradually expanded to northern Brooklyn and the central Bronx. The crackdown is expected to cost about $16 million a year, with most of the money coming from Washington.
The results from the initiative have been dramatic. In the ten precincts of northern Brooklyn, felony crime is down 25 percent since the initiative kicked off on April 1, compared with the same period a year earlier.
The Brooklyn North command, which includes some of the city’s poorest neighborhoods, had accounted for one-quarter of the city’s shootings and was home to a large percentage of the city’s criminals.
In the central Bronx, 39 drug-selling locations have been identified in the 46th Precinct alone. Since early May, 25 bodegas and smoke shops have been closed in two precincts.
The murder rate in that area, however, has soared to heights not seen since the early 1960s. “We’re not very happy about it,” said Deputy Inspector John McDermott, commanding officer of the 46th Precinct. “But crime will go down when we close down three major drug rings in the next few months.”