Pubdate: Wed, 24 May 2006
Source: Buffalo News (NY)
Copyright: 2006 The Buffalo News
Author: Maki Becker, News Staff Reporter
Bookmark: (Marijuana)
Bookmark: (Cocaine)
Bookmark: (Drug Raids)


After Flurry of Arrests, Many Cases Dismissed or Suspects Released

Thirty-eight suspected drug houses raided. Seventy-six people arrested.

The police dubbed the three-day blitz "Operation Shock and Awe," after
the mass bombings that launched the beginning of the Iraq War, and
even invited the media along, like embedded war correspondents, to
witness the dramatic busts.

Many politicians and residents have applauded the city for taking
action against drugs in Buffalo, but they also question how much
impact the raids ultimately had.

A Buffalo News analysis found that of the suspects picked up during
the raids conducted April 18 to 20, just 20 are facing felony charges,
according to City Court records.

Sixteen suspects had their cases dismissed, at least some because the
judge found there wasn't enough evidence to support the charges. At
least 32 of the suspects were out of jail within 24 hours of being

The raids also yielded just a small quantity of drugs - 4 pounds, 13
ounces of marijuana and less than 7 ounces of cocaine and crack
cocaine - especially considering 3 1/2 pounds of the pot was
confiscated when a police officer stopped a driver for a moving
violation during the time of the raids and just happened to find the
drugs. "It is discouraging," said Council Member Dominic Bonifacio Jr.
of the outcome. "We've all heard about the revolving door in the court
system, but this proves it."

Bonifacio, who represents the Niagara District, knows firsthand how
complex going after drug dealers can be.

He lives around the corner from 196 Albany St., one of the 38
buildings targeted in the raids. Sandwiched between a Pentecostal
church and a drug rehabilitation center for women, the house has long
drawn the ire of neighbors, who say it's a drug house.

When police came busting through the door on April 19, they arrested
three people and seized three grams of crack cocaine and a digital

"I got calls thanking me," Bonifacio recalled. But by the next day, he
was getting an earful from his constituents. "They said they're back
out [of jail], and they're back living there."

Court records show that two of the suspects arrested at 196 Albany St.
had their cases dismissed. The third was charged with misdemeanor
counts of seventh-degree criminal possession of a controlled substance
and second-degree criminal use of drug paraphernalia. He was released
on his own recognizance a day after he was arrested and did not have
to post bail.

Dismissals Criticized

"It's a slap in the face to our good men in blue," Bonifacio said
about the minimal charges and dismissed cases. "There's always talk
about New York [State] being too hard on drug users. But maybe they
need to be harder on the drug dealers." Police Commissioner H.
McCarthy Gipson said he hopes to meet with City Court judges to
encourage them to increase bail for people charged with drug dealing.
"But that would only be a request," Gipson said. "You cannot
circumvent bail."

City Court judges say they simply don't have the discretion to impose
harsh sentences just because the mayor ordered a crackdown on drugs.

Judge Thomas P. Franczyk, who has presided over the majority of cases
from the raids, said he also found problems with police paperwork that
doesn't pass legal muster. "It still has to pass the test of legal
sufficiency," Franczyk said. "The law is the law, and the facts are
the facts," he said. "In some cases, the accusatory paperwork is not
alleging sufficient facts to support the defendant's knowing and
unlawful possession of the drugs . . . It's not enough to say they
were there when the drugs were found somewhere in the house."

Franczyk noticed enough paperwork problems that he sent a letter to
Gipson, urging the commissioner to have his officers meet with the
members of the District Attorney's office to cut down on paperwork

"What we learned was we need to be more specific about who possesses
what," conceded Chief of Detectives Dennis Richards, who said he and
other police brass recently sat down with narcotics detectives to make
sure they write up their paperwork correctly.

The raids also gave police the idea that they should team up with
housing inspectors and the county Health Department in future raids to
deal with safety issues that arise. Police also are looking into
working with federal housing officials to seize problem drug houses.

"There will certainly be more raids in the future," Richards said.
"You can count on that . . . We're looking at small-scale,
large-scale, street-level. Nice quiet streets marred by one drug house
as well as entire streets written off as drug house streets. So we're
looking at top to bottom."

Residents who live near the drug houses say it's about time police
started cracking down but wonder how lasting the effect will be. "You
take one piece of scum off the street, three more will take their
place," said Raymond Johnson, 45, who also lives near 196 Albany St.,
with his wife and teenage son. "They need to get tougher."

Quality-Of-Life Crimes

Wes Gossum, 35, who moved to Buffalo last year from Brooklyn, said the
drugs and violence he sees in his West Side neighborhood remind him of
the infamous mean streets of New York in the 1980s.

"Right now, New York City is calm," Gossum said. "Buffalo is

Mayor Byron W. Brown's administration is hoping to turn Buffalo's
crime problem around by trying to replicate former New York Mayor
Rudolph Giuliani's famously tough stance on crime in New York, where
crime levels have plummeted.

Brown has declared what he is calling a "zero-tolerance" policy on
so-called "quality-of-life" crimes in an effort to curb crime.

Eugene O'Donnell, a professor of police studies at John Jay College in
New York, voiced caution about any mayor saying he or she can
replicate what happened in New York where the yearly murder totals
plummeted from more than 2,000 to between 500 and 600.

"It's not universally accepted," said O'Donnell, who is also a former
New York City police officer, that Giuliani's approach is what cut
down crime. "No one strategy can be pointed to as to why the city got
safer. It was depicted as a miracle, but actually, crime was dropping
even before Giuliani [took office]."

To try to combat drugs, Buffalo has taken several steps beyond the

First, the Police Department rearranged its squads to add three more
sergeants and eight detectives to its Narcotics Unit, which now
operates day and night, instead of just at night.

In addition to the Shock and Awe raids, Buffalo police teamed up with
the Drug Enforcement Administration last month to arrest "Fat Frank"
Battaglia, accused of operating a major drug ring in the Lovejoy district.

The city also has reintroduced "Operation Clean Sweep," in which a
team of law enforcement, city inspectors and other city workers
descend on a block identified as having crime and blight problems.
They go door-to-door, checking on everything from smoke alarm
batteries and building permits to open warrants.

Police readily acknowledge that one big drug raid like Shock and Awe
isn't going to put an end to Buffalo's drug trade, and that repeated
raids and more arrests of higher level drug distributors are needed.

Shock and Awe "is just the beginning," said Richards, the chief of
detectives. "If you're dealing drugs in Buffalo, basically, you're
going to be dealing with the Police Department."

Gipson said arresting dealers repeatedly may be the only way to get
the message through, comparing it to the aggressive, long-term
approach to treating drug abusers, who often try to quit multiple
times before having success. "Our effectiveness comes in trying to
keep them off kilter . . . Keep them wondering if we're coming today
or not coming." 
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