Pubdate: Tue, 30 Mar 2004
Source: Post and Courier, The (Charleston, SC)
Copyright: 2004 Evening Post Publishing Co.
Author: Glenn Smith, Post and Courier Staff
Bookmark: (Cocaine)


Project Aims to Curb Crime on East Side, Other Neighborhoods

The  Charleston police are cracking down on street-level drug dealers on 
the city's East Side in a push to end a cycle of black-on-black violence 
and other crime that has eaten away at the neighborhood's quality of life, 
authorities said.

By late Monday, police had rounded up 23 people accused of selling crack 
cocaine, heroin and other drugs to undercover officers over the past few 
weeks, said police Lt. James Mackey, a narcotics squad supervisor.

The effort, dubbed "Operation Fresh Start," grew out of a January forum 
police held to address a wave of intraracial violence that has left three 
black people dead and nine more wounded by gunfire since the year's start. 
Police have long maintained that much of the city's violence can be traced 
to drug disputes.

"This is a project we put together to give the neighborhood a fresh start," 
Mackey said. "We want to show dealers that the heat is on in this area, and 
we are looking for a safer community."

Police plan to conduct similar operations in other neighborhoods in the 
coming months. The idea is to keep dealers unsettled and confused so they 
will eventually just leave the city rather than hopscotch from one 
neighborhood to the next, Mackey said.

Investigators knew there were drug problems on the East Side, but they 
didn't realize just how bad those problems were until they received a call 
in late February from a Hanover Street landlord, Mackey said.

The landlord explained that drug dealers had forced one of his tenants from 
an apartment so they could use the place for their narcotics operation, 
Mackey said. The tenant moved into the city's homeless shelter rather than 
fight the dealers, he said.

"The drug dealers just ran him out, and they took over the house," he said. 
"After we heard that, we realized the problem was a little more serious 
than we assumed in the beginning. We knew it was time to put more focus on 
that area."

The predominantly black East Side has been the site of at least three 
shootings this year, including the Feb. 14 slaying of a 43-year-old mother 
of three. Neighborhood leaders have tried to enlist residents in the fight 
against drugs, prostitution and other crime, but many people remain fearful 
of retaliation.

Latonya Memminger, president of the East Side Community Development Corp., 
said she welcomes the extra attention from police and hopes they will keep 
the pressure on.

"It's good to see that they are devoting more time to the area. We could 
certainly use some more efforts from the police department dealing with the 
drug issue," she said. "It's very difficult for people. Nobody wants to 
feel that where they live is a danger to their well-being."

The Hanover Street landlord who called police last month said his former 
tenant was among those living in fear. A group of drug dealers struck up an 
acquaintance with the tenant, a former homeless man, and started using his 
apartment as a place to hang out when they needed a break from the street, 
said the landlord, who asked not to be named for fear of retribution.

"The next thing he knew, they had basically taken over his apartment," he 
said. "He just didn't think it was safe to stay there anymore ... and he 
has gone back to the shelter for a while."

After the landlord's call, investigators began closely watching the 
apartment house. When police raided the apartment a week or so ago, they 
seized two pistols and a "cookie," or ounce, of crack cocaine, which is 
worth about $1,600, Mackey said. No one was home at the time, he said.

Over the past few weeks, undercover officers also bought drugs from about 
25 people on the East Side, Mackey said. Officers then got arrest warrants 
and started hitting the streets Thursday to round up the suspects, two of 
whom remain at large. All 23 people in custody were young black men from 
the Charleston/North Charleston area, he said.

A list of the suspects was not available Monday, and police were still 
working to determine the amounts and values of the drugs collected through 
purchases and arrests, Mackey said.

Over the past few years, police have conducted several investigations and 
raids aimed at driving drug dealers from city neighborhoods. Among those 
efforts were 2001's "Operation Mayday," which targeted East Side heroin 
dealers and resulted in nearly 40 convictions, and 2002's "Operation Broken 
Needle," aimed at 32 suspected heroin dealers in the same neighborhood.

Some residents and community leaders have complained that these efforts 
merely shifted the problem from one neighborhood to another.

The area above Cannon Street on the peninsula, which includes much of the 
east and west sides of the city and the Neck Area, had 315 reported drug 
offenses in 2003, about a 17 percent drop from the previous year. That 
figure, however, was nearly double the number of drug offenses reported on 
the lower half of the peninsula, which includes the Market area and the 
tony South of Broad neighborhood.

Police were winding up the operation Monday, but they plan to keep a close 
eye on the East Side as they move to other areas of the city, Mackey said. 
Police plan to keep a visible presence as well, through such efforts as 
Friday's driver's license checkpoint on the East Side, he said.

"We plan to keep the heat up in the area we just hit," he said. "We're not 
going to just hit it and let it go."
- ---
MAP posted-by: Terry Liittschwager