January 22, 2009
'The Disconnect Between the Streets and the Business Suites'
(Baltimore, MD) Juvenile offenders brought from Baltimore detention centers, along with Baltimore PD representatives, school officials, social workers, and leaders from grass-roots organizations, participated in a panel discussion regarding street crime. The five teens, recognizing the mistakes they had made, talked about their intentions to stay on the right path in spite of the violence in their neighborhoods. "But asked whether they felt safe in their neighborhoods, their answers showed just how tenuous staying on the right path can be.
'For me, safe or not safe, it doesn't matter because things can go bad in a second,' said one of the teens, who added that he once made $850 a week on the streets slinging drugs. 'But if I've got [a gun], I'm the man and you can't say nothing to me. If I don't have a [gun], I'll walk around with a knife.' At one point, the panel moderator asked the teens whether any of their family or friends had been killed. 'This year?' one asked...
The teens who spoke to the crowd talked about the lure of the streets and how important the money they earned through criminal activity was to their families. They said they didn't want to become involved in violence, but some said factors in their neighborhoods and the need to be respected were difficult to overcome.
Full story from baltimoresun.com... [Michele Berry]
January 16, 2009
Deep cover: New girl at Millington school partied, made friends -- and sought to score drugs
The new student at Millington Central High School was freaking out in study hall.
She'd just been talking to a boy about scoring some drugs one late September day when she turned to get her purse and couldn't find her cell phone inside.
The slight, pretty girl with dark blonde hair and a darker secret went nuts.
She jumped up and dumped the purse out onto the table, demanding, "Who took my cell phone!?"
The phone's loss itself was of no importance.
But if the thief bothered to call the stored numbers, he'd hear such greetings as: "This is Inspector Charlie Coleman of the Millington Police Department ..."
Word would surely spread through hallways and text messages that the flirty senior who transferred in August, went to class and all the games, partied with them, ate cafeteria food, showed interest in drugs, even used a marijuana image for her wallpaper on MySpace, was with the cops!
Suddenly, her deep-cover operation was imperiled just halfway through the semester.
The fake student ran to the office of assistant principal Bo Griffin, the only person on campus besides principal Ted Horrell who knew her real identity.
"Do you have Charlie's number?'' she recalled asking Griffin, referring to Inspector Coleman, who helped set up the sting.
Police shut her phone off in an hour, before anyone stumbled upon its secrets. [Mark Godsey]
January 06, 2009
Dealing With Addiction From The Judge's Bench
She joins Farai Chideya to discuss her days as a municipal court judge in Cleveland Heights, Ohio, where she saw many cases related to drug addiction.
December 31, 2008
Girding for new marijuana law, state offers enforcement tips
Police officers should issue tickets, similar to a building code citation, to anyone possessing an ounce or less of marijuana, under an advisory released by the state yesterday recommending ways to manage the law decriminalizing possession of the drug.
The law is effective Jan 2.
Violators may appeal the citation - a civil infraction - in court within 21 days or pay the $100 fine set by the statute. Municipalities would be responsible for collecting the fines, according to the recommendations.
With much confusion over how police should handle marijuana possession, ranging from enforcement measures to whether officers themselves can be punished for using the drug, the state's Executive Office of Public Safety and Security released the seven pages of guidelines hoping to set a clear standard before the law takes effect Friday.
The guidelines, which are not binding, were issued even as aspects of the law continue to trigger new questions - such as whether people who smoke marijuana in public face only the civil fine as punishment.
"It gives some people guidance so that they can move forward, so that we can eliminate any confusion as to how this statute is meant to be applied, and alleviate any concerns," said Kevin M. Burke, secretary of Public Safety and Security.
The recommendations also unveiled new interpretations of the initiative petition, similar to acts passed in 13 states, that was approved overwhelmingly by voters in November. Not only is possessing an ounce or less of marijuana a civil offense, but the same amount of any substance - including hashish, or hash oil - with the active ingredient THC would also be decriminalized.
In addition, the state is asking communities to consider passing local ordinances criminalizing the use of marijuana in public, which, as of Friday, would not warrant any punishment beyond the civil citation. [Mark Godsey]
December 19, 2008
Marijuana Law Comes With Challenges
Last month, voters approved a statewide measure decriminalizing the possession of small amounts of marijuana. Now, wary authorities say, comes the hard part. They are scrambling to set up a new system of civil penalties before Jan. 2, when the change becomes law. From then on, anyone caught with an ounce or less of marijuana will owe a $100 civil fine instead of ending up with an arrest record and possibly facing jail time.
It sounds simple, but David Capeless, president of the Massachusetts District Attorneys Association, said the new policy presented a thicket of questions and complications.
One of the most basic, Mr. Capeless said, is who will collect the fines and enforce other provisions of the law. For example, violators under 18 will be required to attend a drug awareness class within a year, but it is unclear who will make sure that they do so. The fine increases to $1,000 for those who skip the class.
A complicating factor, said Mr. Capeless, the district attorney in Berkshire County, is that state law bans the police from demanding identification for civil infractions.
“Not only do you not have to identify yourself,” he said, “but it would appear from a strict reading that people can get a citation, walk away, never pay a fine and have no repercussion.”
Wayne Sampson, executive director of the Massachusetts Chiefs of Police Association, says he anticipates that many violators will lie about their identities.
“You can tell us that you’re Mickey Mouse of One Disneyland Way,” Mr. Sampson said, “and we have to assume that’s true.”
The authorities, he said, will also have to be sure that the substance they hand out citations for is marijuana, which will involve sending it to the State Police crime laboratory. [Mark Godsey]
December 03, 2008
15 officers caught in FBI drug sting
"I ain't always been in law enforcement," a Harvey cop allegedly bragged to the drug dealer whose business he was paid to protect. "I sold a lot of weight at a young age, I just never got caught."
His luck ran out Tuesday, though, as federal authorities unsealed charges against the Harvey police officer and 14 other law-enforcement officers.
The drug dealer was an undercover FBI agent who secretly recorded his conversations. Two civilians were also charged.
The FBI said it launched the yearlong sting after widespread reports from informants and other cops that law-enforcement officers in southern Cook County were engaging in robbery, extortion and distribution of narcotics and weapons.
"When drug dealers deal drugs, they ought to be afraid of the police—not turn to them for help," U.S. Atty. Patrick Fitzgerald said during a news conference announcing the charges.
Authorities charged 10 Cook County corrections officers and sheriff's deputies, four Harvey police officers and one Chicago officer with providing protection for what they thought were a dozen large-scale shipments of cocaine and heroin.
The transactions took place from August 2007 to August 2008 in parking lots throughout the south suburbs, as well as one at DuPage Airport.
Assigned to ferret out police corruption, the undercover FBI agent took a job at the Skybox, a strip club in Harvey, sources said. Posing as a big-time drug broker, he convinced Ahyetoro "Red" Taylor and Raphael Manuel, both corrections officers, to assist him and reach out to friends to work security as well.
The officers were told to carry their weapons and badges and use them to fend off anyone who might try to interfere in the deal, including other dealers or suspicious police officers, authorities charged.
The 15 officers shared in a combined $44,000 in payoffs for their illicit security work, a total of $400 to $4,000 for each deal, according to the charges. [Mark Godsey]
December 02, 2008
Cops Say Legalizing Drugs Can Boost Economy by Billions
This Tuesday, December 2, a group of law enforcers who fought on the front lines of the “war on drugs” and witnessed its failures will commemorate the 75th anniversary of alcohol prohibition’s repeal by calling for drug legalization. The cops, judges and prosecutors will release a report detailing how many billions of dollars can be used to boost the ailing economy when drug prohibition is ended.
“America’s leaders had the good sense to realize that we couldn’t afford to keep enforcing the ineffective prohibition of alcohol during the Great Depression,” said Terry Nelson, a 30-year veteran federal agent and member of Law Enforcement Against Prohibition (LEAP). “Now, cops fighting on the front lines of today’s ‘war on drugs’ are working to make our streets safer and help solve our economic crisis by teaching lawmakers a lesson from history about the failure of prohibition. We can do it again.”
WHO: Federal agents, street cops, detectives, corrections officials and a Harvard economist
WHAT: Release of “We Can Do It Again” report on benefits of repealing drug prohibition
WHEN: This Tuesday, December 2, 2008 @ 10:00 a.m. EST
WHERE: National Press Club; Zenger Room; 529 14th Street, NW; 13th Fl.; Washington, DC
***phone press conference also available at 1:30 p.m. EST***
“We Can Do It Again: Repealing Today’s Failed Prohibition,” highlights how the “war on drugs” – just like alcohol prohibition – subsidizes violent gangsters, endangers public health and diminishes public respect for the rule of law. The report also details how the newer prohibition comes with the much graver threat of international cartels and terrorists who profit from illegal drug sales. Yet, it leaves readers on a hopeful note…
“We’re starting to see an emerging consensus that drug prohibition just doesn’t make sense,” said Seattle’s retired Police Chief Norm Stamper, a LEAP member. “Three out of four Americans now say the ‘war on drugs’ has failed, and so do the U.S. Conference of Mayors, the National Black Caucus of State Legislators and the National Hispanic Caucus of State Legislators. Now, it’s up to the new administration and Congress to follow through.”[Tom Angell] [Mark Godsey]
More information about LEAP and a copy of the report will be uploaded at http://www.WeCanDoItAgain.com/
December 01, 2008
Treatment programs key to winning war on drugs
A recent report by the Government Accountability Office, commissioned by Sen. Joe Biden, has come to an unsurprising conclusion: After more than $6 billion spent, the controversial drug control operation known as Plan Colombia has failed by large margins to meet its targets.
The goal had been to cut cocaine production in Colombia by 50 percent from 2000 to 2006 through eradication of coca crops and training of anti-narcotics police and military personnel. In fact, cocaine production in Colombia rose 4 percent during that period, the GAO found. With increases in Peru and Bolivia, production of cocaine in South America increased by 12 percent during that period. In 1999 it cost $142 to buy a gram of cocaine on the street in the United States, according to inflation-adjusted figures from the U.N. Office on Drugs and Crime. By 2006 the price had fallen to $94 per gram.
President-elect Barack Obama won his historic victory by promising pragmatic, results-oriented solutions aimed at the common good. The recent report demonstrates that Plan Colombia does not fit those criteria.
The primary lesson for the new administration to take from Plan Colombia's failures is something that many economists have been saying for years: Efforts to decrease the supply of drugs in America without major efforts to curb demand for them will only increase the profits of drug dealers and the associated crime rates.
The Office of National Drug Control Policy, under which Plan Colombia and other drug control programs operate, spends 65 percent of its $12 billion annual budget on supply-side efforts and only 35 percent on the demand side. In 1971, when the Nixon administration initiated the war against drugs, the pragmatic goal was to have the exact opposite: two-thirds of funding for treatment and prevention and one-third for law enforcement, crop reduction and drug interdiction.
During the Reagan, Clinton and Bush administrations, however, strict laws were put in place aimed at reducing the availability of drugs on the streets. These have served to give the United States the highest incarceration rates in the world, with more than one in 100 Americans in jail or prison. Mass incarceration has broken up families and communities, at a huge economic cost. In general, it costs about $34,000 to lock someone up for a year and only $3,300 to provide year-long substance abuse treatment. [Mark Godsey]
November 28, 2008
U.S. war on drugs has failed, report says
The United States' war on drugs has failed and will continue to do so as long as it emphasizes law enforcement and neglects the problem of consumption, a Washington think tank says in a report co-chaired by a former president of Mexico.
The former president, Ernesto Zedillo, in an interview, called for a major rethinking of U.S. policy, which he said has been "asymmetrical" in demanding that countries such as Mexico stanch the flow of drugs northward, without successful efforts to stop the flow of guns south. In addition to disrupting drug-smuggling routes, eradicating crops and prosecuting dealers, the U.S. must confront the public health issue that large-scale consumption poses, he said.
"If we insist only on a strategy of the criminal pursuit of those who traffic in drugs," Zedillo said, "the problem will never be resolved."
The indictment of Washington's counter-narcotics campaign comes in a report released this week by the Brookings Institution that advocates closer engagement with Latin America and the Caribbean. U.S. influence in the region has slipped dramatically during the eight years of the Bush administration, and the report suggests an incoming Democratic government led by Barack Obama can open opportunities for better ties and communication. [Mark Godsey]
November 27, 2008
Police prepare for changes in marijuana possession laws
Local law enforcement officials are still in a haze about Question 2 as it winds its way through the bureaucratic process.
There are a number of logistical issues that stand between the ballot initiative that would decriminalize the possession of small amounts of marijuana and the enforcement of the new policy throughout the commonwealth. In the meantime, possession of less than an ounce of marijuana is still a criminal offense, even though some districts are suspending their pursuit of such cases.
Wareham police aren’t changing their approach to criminal possession yet.
“I’m waiting to see logistically how it will be implemented,” Lt. Irving Wallace said.
Wallace suspected that it would be handled like any other bylaw or civil infraction, with the officer just issuing a ticket to the offender and someone following up to make sure the ticket was paid.
The Wareham lieutenant was also concerned about how officers would have to determine how much marijuana someone had on them. While most officers could eyeball either a very small or very large amount of marijuana it’s more difficult when it is just under or just over an ounce since most police cruisers don’t come equipped with a scale.
Law enforcement officials like State Attorney General Martha Coakley and Plymouth County District Attorney Timothy Cruz spoke out strongly against the ballot measure when it was first proposed. They cited correlations between reported marijuana use and incidents of juvenile crime, as well as the fact that marijuana available today is allegedly nine times as potent as it was 30 years ago. [Mark Godsey]
November 20, 2008
Borderless Drug Wars
The drug violence that has left nearly 4,000 people dead this year in Mexico is spreading deep into the United States, leaving a trail of slayings, kidnappings and other crimes in at least 195 cities as far afield as Atlanta, Boston, Seattle and Honolulu, according to federal authorities.
The involvement of the top four Mexican drug-trafficking organizations in distribution and money-laundering on U.S. soil has brought a war once dismissed as a foreign affair to the doorstep of local communities.
Residents of the quiet Beaver Hills subdivision in Lilburn, Ga., an Atlanta suburb, awoke to the trans-border crime wave in July, when a brigade of well-armored federal and state police officers surrounded a two-story colonial home at 755 East Fork Shady Drive, ordered neighbors to lock their doors and flushed out three men described as members of a Mexican drug cartel. One was captured after he tried to slip down a storm drain. Another was caught in the ivy in Pete Bogerd’s backyard. He lives two doors up and is president of the neighborhood association.
“It blew us away,” Bogerd said. “I didn’t know we had that many cops.”
A short while later, police hauled out a 31-year-old from the Dominican Republic who for nearly a week had been chained and tortured inside the basement, allegedly for not paying a $300,000 drug debt. [Mark Godsey]
November 17, 2008
Craigslist Increasingly Used to Sell Drugs
Drug dealing on craigslist has become so rampant that the city's special narcotics prosecutor has asked the online trading post to curb the ads, the Daily News has learned.
Bridget Brennan's undercover investigators have bought drugs offered on craigslist personals from dealers ranging from a Citigroup banker to an Ivy Leaguer to a violent felon using a halfway house computer. In the past four years, her office has prosecuted dozens of dealers.
"Ski lift tickets are here for sale ... Tina Turner tickets ... best seats around!" Offers like these appear virtually every day on craigslist, and they are thinly veiled ads posted by people hawking cocaine (ski) or crystal meth (cristina or tina).
"Despite devoting considerable resources to prosecuting these cases, drug dealing is still thriving on craigslist," Brennan wrote craigslist CEO Jim Buckmaster. Brennan said she was inspired to act by a recent agreement between craigslist and attorneys general from 40 states to curb prostitution ads.
"It's like shooting fish in a barrel," Brennan said of how easy it is to find dealers on craigslist.
One undercover said he just types "ski" in the search field and up pops ad after ad with offers.
"We respond to the ad, but it must lead to a meeting where the drug is exchanged for money, like any regular drug deal," the investigator said.
Ten days ago, craigslist unveiled sweeping new measures, in partnership with law enforcement and the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, to stop its ads from being used for prostitution, child exploitation and other illegal activities.
Craigslist will require "erotic services" providers to pay $10 for each listing and pay with a credit card, which the police will be able to subpoena.
Brennan says the idea could be applied to drug ads.
"I would like members of my staff who have an expertise in prosecuting Internet drug sales to meet with you and explore ways to curb drug dealing on your Web site," her letter says.
In an interview, Brennan said the best course is "to work with them to screen out sellers. They would have to focus on commonly used terms and develop screening mechanisms.
Read full article here. [Brooks Holland]
November 10, 2008
Majority agrees that some users unduly punished
The district attorney and the head of the group that pushed Massachusetts voters to overwhelmingly back a huge reduction in the penalty for marijuana possession don’t agree on a lot of things.
One thing on which they do agree: Voters bought the argument that kids and adults caught with marijuana are unfairly burdened under the present law, which can saddle them with a criminal record for the rest of their lives.
Norfolk County District Attorney William Keating said that perception is, in fact, a myth, no matter what voters believed. Most first-time offenders, he said, have their cases dismissed before arraignment.
Whitney Taylor is chairwoman of the Committee for Sensible Marijuana Policy, the group largely responsible for passage this past week of the ballot question that will reduce the penalty for possession of less than an ounce of marijuana to a ticket and a $100 fine. Taylor argued the punishments under the existing law have prevented respectable people from getting jobs, school loans or custody of their children.
“The current law does more harm than good,” she said in a post-election interview.
Statewide, 64 percent — nearly 2 million people — voted Tuesday to change the marijuana law, a
level that exceeded even President-elect Barack Obama’s support in the state. The measure won the support of a majority of voters in every South Shore town except Braintree, where 52 percent voted against reducing the penalty.
The new law takes effect 30 days after being reported to the Governor’s Council in November or December. It makes possession of under an ounce of marijuana punishable by a $100 civil fine. Those caught will no longer be reported to the state’s Criminal History Board.
Proponents said the broad support proves there is widespread belief – not only among marijuana smokers – that criminal penalties for personally using the drug are too harsh, and that people caught with small amounts of marijuana are unfairly haunted later. The Committee for Sensible Marijuana Policy, with
about 500 volunteers, alone spent $1 million to persuade voters. [Mark Godsey]
November 06, 2008
Stem cell, medical marijuana props approved
Michigan voters easily approved a law Tuesday to allow the seriously ill to smoke marijuana, while a proposal to ease restrictions on stem cell research research won by a tighter margin.
Michigan became the 13th state -- and first in the Midwest -- to legalize medical marijuana. While backers said it would help as many as 50,000 residents ease the pain of cancer, Hepatitis C, HIV/AIDS and other illnesses, Proposal 1 drew widespread opposition from law enforcement, business groups and health organizations.
Dianne Byrum, spokeswoman for Michigan Coalition for Compassionate Care which championed the proposal, said the opposition ads didn't work.
"This is a victory for the patients and their stories resonated with voters," she said. "The scare tactics from the opposition were over the top and not believable."
Said Michigan Court of Appeals Judge Bill Schuette, spokesman for the group opposed to medical marijuana: "We waged a good fight and talked about the unintended consequences. But we were underfunded and came up short."
Mike Chaffee, 48, an accountant from Troy , said medical marijuana is an "alternative to high-cost drugs" and allows patients to "decide what's best for them." [Mark Godsey]
November 05, 2008
False results put drug tests under microscope
"We were dumbfounded," Artemis says. Police told them they could be facing years in prison for exporting narcotics, because 2.5 pounds of material found in their carry-on bag tested positive for hashish. "All we knew was that we didn't have drugs."
They were telling the truth. They didn't have drugs. They had chocolate.
The couple were caught up in what civil libertarians, public defenders and some narcotics experts say is a growing problem: the use of unreliable field drug-test kits as the basis to arrest innocent people on illegal drug charges.
The inexpensive test kits are used by virtually every police department in the country and by federal agents, including Customs officers at the nation's borders. The kits test suspicious materials, and a positive result generally leads to an arrest and court date, pending more sophisticated tests done after the sample is sent to a lab. [Mark Godsey]
October 21, 2008
DAs fight bid to ease penalty for marijuana
As a student at Stonehill College, Suffolk District Attorney Daniel F. Conley found himself in a room with guys passing around a bong. "When it came to me, I inhaled so hard that it burned my lungs," he says. "I don't want to sound Clintonesque; I inhaled, but I couldn't handle it."
Gerry Leone, Middlesex district attorney, also admits to smoking pot. "It was years ago, when I was a young man," he said. "I tried it once, and it wasn't something I was ever into."
Michael O'Keefe, district attorney for the Cape and Islands, would only hint at his past: "Like a lot of people in my generation, we did a lot of things that were unwise, unhealthy, and illegal," he says.
The prosecutors - who would have faced obstacles to attaining their law enforcement positions had they been caught - are now among the leading opponents of a proposition on the Nov. 4 ballot that would decriminalize possession of small amounts of marijuana. They argue that the initiative would send the wrong message and lead to a host of social problems.
Proponents argue, however, that if the question passed, possession of small amounts would remain illegal but would no longer tarnish someone's future.
Under state law, those convicted of possessing even a small amount of marijuana now face up to six months in jail, a fine of $500, and a lifelong criminal record that may be available to potential employers, housing agencies, and student loan providers. In 2006, 6,902 people were arrested in Massachusetts for marijuana possession - more than 38 percent of all the drug arrests in the state that year, according to the FBI's Uniform Crime Reports. [Mark Godsey]
October 15, 2008
Drug Courts Offer Many Another Chance
Over the last three years, she had repeatedly missed court-ordered therapy and hearings, and the judge, J. Wesley Saint Clair of the Drug Diversion Court, at first meted out mild punishments, like community service. But last winter, pushed past his forgiving limit, he jailed her briefly twice. The threat of more jail did the trick.
Now she was graduating — along with 23 other addicts who entered drug court instead of prison. Prosecutors and public defenders applauded when she was handed her certificate; a policewoman hugged her, and a child shouted triumphantly, “Yeah, Mamma!”
In Seattle, as in drug courts across the country, the stern face of criminal justice is being redrawn, and emotions are often on the surface. Experts say drug courts have been the country’s fastest-spreading innovation in criminal justice, giving arrested addicts a chance to avoid prison by agreeing to stringent oversight and addiction treatment. Recent studies show drug courts are one of the few initiatives that reduce recidivism — on average by 8 percent to 10 percent nationally and as high as 26 percent in New York State — and save taxpayer money.
Since Judge Saint Clair took over the King County drug court here in 2005, the annual number of graduates — drug and alcohol free for at least six months — has more than doubled. His court has been cited by outside experts as one of the country’s best, yet a state budget crisis is forcing a shrinkage in participants.
Since the first drug court began work, in Miami in 1989, the idea has spread to more than 2,100 courtrooms in every state, though they still take in only a small fraction of addicted criminals. Offenders, usually caught in low-level dealing or stealing to support their addictions, volunteer for 9 to 18 months or more of intrusive supervision by a judge, including random urine testing, group therapy and mandatory sobriety meetings. The intent is a personal transformation that many participants say is tougher than prison — and with the threat of prison if they drop out or are kicked out.
“I’ve waited 22 months for this day, and I never thought I’d make it,” Scott Elkins, a 26-year-old hip-hop singer, told the Seattle audience in September. A cocaine user and dealer who had been clean for two years, Mr. Elkins had his felony charges dropped and has a job, his own music production company and marriage plans.
Nationwide, 70,000 offenders are in adult or juvenile drug courts at any given time, with the number growing, said C. West Huddleston III, director of the National Association of Drug Court Professionals. The concept has been supported by the Clinton and Bush administrations.
“To find an intervention that works has generated great excitement in the criminal justice community,” said Greg Berman, director of the Center for Court Innovation, a research group in New York, where Chief Judge Judith S. Kaye has been a strong advocate.
But some scholars say that, because of high up-front costs, the limited success of drug treatment and a shortage of judges with the required personal talents, drug courts are unlikely to make a significant dent in the prison population.
Some lawyers also say the courts can infringe on the rights of defendants given that offenders usually must acknowledge guilt to enter the court, or in some places have already agreed to a plea bargain and sentence. Thus an addict might opt for drug court to avoid prison or with sincere intentions of going straight, but if treatment fails and he is expelled from the program, he must serve a sentence without having seriously fought the charges. His total time in court custody, between drug court and then prison, may be longer than it would have been otherwise. Advocates respond that such offenders are facing a plea-bargaining mill in any case, and are offered an invaluable chance for change.
Critics also worry that the courts can monopolize scarce drug-treatment slots at the expense of other addicts seeking help.
Clearly, the courts do not help everyone. One of the most successful programs is in New York State, where about 1,600 offenders are in adult drug courts. Studies found that while 40 percent dropped out of the program along the way, those who started it, including both dropouts and graduates, had 29 percent fewer new convictions over a three-year period than a control group with similar criminal histories and no contact with drug courts, Mr. Berman said.
Read full article here. [Brooks Holland]
October 06, 2008
Cincinnati: Homicides ahead of '07 pace Drug Shortage to Blame
Cincinnati has been a violent place lately.
In the last week, there have been five homicides - increasing the number this year to 58, compared to 55 homicides at this time last year. On Sept. 29 and Sept. 30 alone, there were 15 shootings.
The increase of gun violence has gotten the attention of police, judges and Mayor Mark Mallory.
So why more violence? Why now?
Police say cutting the supply of illegal drugs may be the cause locally.
The national cocaine supply out of Latin America is dwindling due to tighter border control and stricter laws, police say.
"Our intelligence says there is quite a shortage on crack cocaine right now, and that has the buyers frantic to buy based on their addiction and the sellers know their livelihood is threatened based on supply and demand," said Lt. Col. James Whalen, Cincinnati's patrol bureau commander. "When you get involved with buying and selling drugs, unfortunately you run into violence."
Some are not convinced that the shortage of drugs in the city has a correlation to the rise of violence.
"The way it usually works is the more dope on the street, the more fellas on the street, the more competition for corners on the street, the more gun violence," said Michael Levine, a former 25-year DEA agent and a police expert on drugs, currently located in High Falls, N.Y.
"So what are we supposed to believe, that we should import crack to Cincinnati to stop violence? We'll have the Red Cross do a peace mission of crack cocaine drops," he said.
Whatever the reason, it's clear that the city is suffering. City hospitals have seen an increase in gunshot victims. Cincinnati Children's Hospital Medical Center has already equaled last year's number of trauma patients, 28, and there are nearly three months left in the year.
University Hospital, whose records are current only to August, is on pace to treat 204 gunshot victims by the end of the year, two more than in 2007.
But since that trend does not include the rash of violence in September, the hospital may deal with numbers closer to those of 2006, the most violent year in Cincinnati history with 242 gunshot victims at University and a record 86 homicides in the city.
That does not surprise Dr. Jay Johannigman, director of the division of Trauma and Critical Care at University. He thinks that University could see from 250 to 280 gunshot victims by the end of the year.
"It's been a constant battle we've had here as physicians for the last seven years or so," he said.
Mallory and City Manager Milton Dohoney last week made a plea for the drug-related violence to stop. CeaseFire Cincinnati marched Friday to recent shooting sites, urging an end to violence. [Mark Godsey]
October 04, 2008
State rule clarifies 60-day supply of medical marijuana
A new rule determining how much pot constitutes a 60-day supply for medical-marijuana users was finalized on Thursday, a decade after Washington voters passed an initiative legalizing marijuana for people suffering from terminal and debilitating illnesses.
The new state rule, which goes into effect Nov. 2, sets the supply limit at 24 ounces of usable marijuana plus 15 plants. Those who need more marijuana to manage their pain will have to prove they need it — though how they would do that remains unclear.
While the new, 60-day-supply rule is meant to clarify the law and help police officers determine legitimate amounts, medical-marijuana advocates say the amounts are unreasonable — especially the 15-plant limit — and put patients at risk of criminal prosecution.
In King County, though, that's not going to happen, said Prosecuting Attorney Dan Satterberg, who has met with local law-enforcement officials and created an office policy that looks upon medical-marijuana cases "with a very lenient eye."
"Having this rule, having some amount ... is helpful, but it's not the end of the analysis," Satterberg said. "If you're in King County and you're dying of cancer, we're not going to prosecute you if you have 15 plants or 30. If somebody is legitimately ill, we're not going to prosecute that case, period."
In 1998, Initiative 692 legalized marijuana for medical purposes. Passed by 59 percent of Washington voters, the initiative said patients with valid certification from their doctors could possess a 60-day supply — but never said how much pot that was. The confusion and uncertainty led to conflict between police and patients. [Mark Godsey]
September 19, 2008
The Challenges of Sentencing Young Drug Offenders
How much misery was appropriate to inflict on a promising 19-year-old, who himself had inflicted misery on society by dealing drugs, the judge asked himself out loud.
“It’s almost an impossible calculus,” said Justice Farber, who sits in State Supreme Court in Manhattan.
The young man, Yiskar Caceres, had been arrested four times in roughly 15 months for selling or possessing cocaine, and Justice Farber already had given him an opportunity to wipe his slate clean before his most recent arrest, in April.
Now, Justice Farber said, he had no choice but to sentence Mr. Caceres to state prison. But even in doing so, the judge showed some compassion: he gave Mr. Caceres four and a half years in prison, half the maximum sentence that prosecutors had sought. Because Mr. Caceres has already served 11 months and will be eligible for a drug-treatment program, he could be out in as little as two years.
“I have not given up hope in you,” Justice Farber said, adding that he hoped Mr. Caceres would see how drugs had destroyed some of the inmates’ lives, “see the connection between what you do and what they become.”
Before he was sentenced, Mr. Caceres read the judge a three-and-a-half-page letter he had drafted at the judge’s request, explaining what he was thinking when he committed his crimes.
“I first started selling drugs at the age of 16,” Mr. Caceres said. “I went from one day having nothing to the next day having over $300. It was an unexplainable feeling.”
He added: “While the money was coming in, so did the status of having money and the respect I received from the fact of me having money. All these things made me overlook the wrong I was doing to myself and others.”
Mr. Caceres’s lawyer, Mark I. Cohen, said that he had seen a promising maturation in his client since last year, when he represented Mr. Caceres in his third arrest.
Read full article here. [Brooks Holland]