Pubdate: Sat, 27 Nov 2004
Source: Dispatch, The (NC)
Copyright: 2004, The Lexington Dispatch
Author: Rachel Leonard


THOMASVILLE - Stacy - not her real name - used to live in a
neighborhood where open-air drug markets were the norm. She couldn't
sleep at night because of passing cars and beer bottles breaking.
Once, a child found a $200 crack rock lying in her yard. Her neighbor
found a needle lying by her front door.

The neighborhood was like a drive-thru, Stacy said.

"I would be in the kitchen cooking, and my kids would be like, 'Mom,
there's a man in front of the door, and the man's taking something out
of his pockets and giving it to the man,'" she said.

Stacy tried to stand up to the dealers, but the problem was too large
for one woman to handle. "I couldn't live like that anymore," she
said. "Sooner or later I felt that if they didn't kill me I was going
to kill them."

She moved to a nicer neighborhood - and a drug dealer moved into her
old rental home.

Stacy is only one of many Thomasville residents who have had enough.
Enough crime, enough drug dealing on city streets, enough sleepless
nights. In response to the problem, Thomasville police conducted what
Vice/Narcotics Lt. Darren Smith called a small-scale undercover
narcotics operation in October. Thirteen people were charged with
selling and delivering controlled substances, mostly crack cocaine,
with warrants served through November.

The strategy was a simple one.

"We just dressed down as rough as we could dress and drove different
vehicles, just older, rougher-looking vehicles, and just drove through
the areas," Smith said. "And people flagged us down."

Some of the people had been arrested by the same officers in the past
but didn't recognize them, he said.

Police targeted several high-drug areas, most located north of Main
Street. One target was the Douglas Drive/Martin Luther King Drive
area, located in the northwest corner of the city. Other targets
included Culbreth and Cox avenues, the Thomasville Inn on National
Highway and College Street. Dealers in those areas scan for motorists
who cruise slowly through city streets, then approach the vehicle and
ask what the driver wants.

On top of undercover operations, the Thomasville Police Department has
patrol officers monitor the neighborhoods and befriend residents
through community policing. Dealers from larger cities are
increasingly coming to Thomasville to sell drugs, said Thomasville Lt.
James Mills, and police presence is crucial in stopping dealers before
they start.

"The whole idea is to make it as difficult as possible for them to set
up shop," he explained.

Just the presence of a patrol car is enough to make drug dealers clear
the streets, officer Jason Annas said as he pulled his marked car onto
Culbreth Avenue Friday afternoon. About half a dozen men suddenly
began quickly walking away.

"But you leave the area and come back 30 minutes later, and they're
back," he said. And they did.

Margaret - also a pseudonym - is in her 40s and lives in a Thomasville
neighborhood plagued by open-air drug dealing. "It's not as bad as it
used to be, 'cuz at one point I wouldn't live on this street if they
gave me something free," she said.

Not that the problem certainly has disappeared. "They got the same
amount of drugs, but they're trying to be sneaky with it," she said.

Dealers and users constantly ask to use Margaret's telephone and use
her bathroom. Her teenage son, who isn't allowed to go outside alone
at night, sees it all.

"They act like they're shaking hands, but they're exchanging," he

Her young daughter knows more about drugs than she does, Margaret

One of the 13 people police arrested during the undercover operation
was a juvenile. One was a 67-year-old woman, charged with selling
Xanax, a schedule IV prescription tranquilizer. Most had lengthy
criminal records.

Despite the small scale of the operation, Smith said he's pleased with
its outcome.

"I wish he could have done more," he said, noting it was only a matter
of time before word of the undercover campaign spread among dealers.

"We're going to let it calm down, and we'll try it again sometime."
- ---
MAP posted-by: Larry Seguin