Coalition Raises $1 Million to Fight Drugs


THE Coalition for a Drug-Free Miami is trying to do at the policy level what T. Willard Fair of Liberty City Renaissance is attempting to do on the streets - rid the community of drugs. In operation only since 1988, the nonprofit coalition has raised $1 million from the private sector over five years.

Tad Foote, president of the University of Miami, spearheaded it, putting together a broad-based group that included civic leaders, educators, religious leaders, law-enforcement officials, and drug-treatment providers. The coalition is made up of separate task forces, each headed by private-sector people. It stresses education, prevention, intervention, and treatment over interdiction.

In order to quickly educate lay people on the problems of drugs in the city, coalition members go to treatment centers and ride along with police on their beats. Some of the coalition's accomplishments:

* Helped create a special drug court that diverts first-time offenders out of the criminal justice system and gets them into treatment. It keeps people out of the already-overloaded system and gives them help early. So far 1,650 people have gone through drug court; only 3 percent have been rearrested.

* Encouraged enforcement of a drug-free-school-zones law: A statute prohibiting the sale, use, or purchase of drugs within 1,000 feet of schools had been around a while, but not enforced. The coalition convinced the police to crack down more. Parent-Teacher Associations and local businesses bought signs that explained the implications of the law. Local media donated $3.5 million in advertising to get the message out.

The coalition set up an anonymous tips line that people who witness crimes can call. The police send copies of arrest reports to the school, and the PTA follows each case through the criminal justice system. "That gave young people the idea that the law had some teeth," says Marilyn Culp, the coalition's executive director. "The kids are all told, `John Smith was selling drugs at 2 p.m. and John was sent to the penitentiary for three years because of the drug-free-school-zones law.' "

* Got former drug czar William Bennett to include Miami on the list of high-intensity drug areas. It had been excluded because usage there is lower than in some areas, but the coalition felt that as a major importation site for drugs into the United States, Miami needed to be included. Getting on the list meant more help from federal agencies with interdiction efforts.

* Got leaders from a majority of Miami religious organizations to put warning pamphlets about drugs outside churches or synagogues, and to take substance-abuse-ministry training. "It provided the opportunity for a large segment of the community to do something about the problem," Ms. Culp says. "If you give them something tangible, people begin to feel they're a part of the solution."

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