Hartford's new prescription for fighting drug abuse
An odd collection of pipes is strewn about the white shelves in Office 2719.Skip to next paragraph
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There are crudely fashioned ones of clay and wood, as well as elegantly curved creations of glass, brass, and porcelain.
Slowly, the realization dawns on an observer that the pipes were never intended for tobacco. They are the paraphernalia hurriedly thrown away by drug dealers and users running from the law.
In another place, perhaps, they might seem merely odd. But not here in the Hartford, Conn., police station.
This is what happens when a city begins a major crackdown on drug dealers. The contraband stacks up. So do arrests of small-time street dealers. In Hartford, drug arrests last year were up 40 percent from the year before. And street crime, which many argue is closely related to drug addiction, has been down for six months running.
But as in any major city, for every arrested dealer and confiscation here there are hundreds still on the street. Indeed, the story of the street speaks louder than the statistics.
''As soon as we turn the corner, you're going to see some people blend into the woodwork,'' says Robert Taylor, one of two Hartford narcotics agents seated in the blue sedan. Three blocks away, teen-agers are dealing ''nickel bags'' ($5 worth) of marijuana in front of a low-income housing project.
Sure enough, when Detective Taylor and fellow officer Dan Getek drive around the corner (the car is unmarked and the officers in plain clothes), dozens of teen-agers recognize them and dart away. Pairs of gangly arms and legs disappear behind a concrete wall. One tall youth bolts for the door later than most -- his bright white hat a blurred streak against the reddish brick buildings.
''Now you see what we're up against,'' Detective Getek says. ''Everyone knows us.''
But in Hartford's fight against drug trafficking, teen-agers are small potatoes. More substantial busts can be made several blocks away, where young men stand in front of sleazy storefronts selling small glassine and tinfoil envelopes of heroin and cocaine.
In front of one Hartford bar, the sight of the unmarked sedan sends the dealers scurrying. One man stands his ground, carrying a suspicious-looking brown bag. The detectives decide not to pick him up, perhaps because a civilian is in the car. ''If he's here grinning today, he'll be here tomorrow,'' Taylor says.
Arrest statistics are meaningless on the street, though there have been more arrests since the squad's manpower has been quadrupled over the past year and a half. (The force numbers between 25 and 40; the squad commander, Lt. Larry Jetmore, doesn't want drug dealers to know the exact strength.) Taylor explains: ''If we arrest a street dealer, there'll be someone to take his place the next day.''
If the squad has an impact, it is in the arrest of major dealers. ''That's felt,'' Taylor says. ''We put him out of business, and maybe he has three street dealers working for him. They're out of their supply. It's a pyramid effect.''
Nabbing these big-time dealers is the squad's primary aim, although it often takes weeks of investigation to identify them. ''They're a lot of people between us and him,'' explains Lieutenant Jetmore. Sometimes an informer -- perhaps a rival dealer -- will tip the squad off when a major dealer shows up in Hartford (usually from New York City) with a large drug supply. Other times, the dealer is too big to catch alone, and the squad here works with the state narcotics unit or agents from the federal Drug Enforcement Administration.
January's catch has been good -- four major dealers arrested. One of those arrests the squad report calls ''a significant factor in curbing the influx of heroin.'' But only temporarily, Jetmore adds. Like a wall of sand against an incoming tide, disruptions in the drug traffic are always only temporary.
On Edgewood Street, an area the squad has paid special attention to since January, the officers point out a dilapidated three-story house typical of the area. This is one place where the squad has effectively stopped the drug dealing , but across the street are two other suspected drug outlets. Taylor looks at one of them: ''We've raided that place so many times, I don't (even) know how many times!''