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Reinhold Robert - 28 dicembre 1989
Police, Hard Pressed in Drug War, Are Turning to Preventive Efforts.
By Robert Reinhold - Special to The New York Times

(The New York Times-December 28, 1989)

LOS ANGELES, Dec. 27 - Tactics are changing on the police lines of America's drug war. Frustrated by the overwhelming numbers of drug offenders and an almost infinite supply of illecit drugs, more and more police officers are talking like social workers, arguing that the real solution lies in preventing young people from getting involved with drugs i the first place.

"A year and a half ago we were talking about a laundry list of tough-on-crime legislation," said John B. Emerson, chief deputy city attorney of Los Angeles, who leads a legislative subcommittee of the Police Officers Association of Los Angeles County. "But the focus of our panel now is very much on preventive measures. There's been a very dramatic shift."

In one city after another, there is acknowledgment that conventional police methods have reached their limits, that on their ownn they cannot solve the drug problem and that the police should have a more direct role in attacking the underlying social causes of drug abuse.

"You hear police chiefs saying things they didn't say a few years ago," said Patrick V. Murphy, a former New York City Police Commissioner who is now director of police policy for the United States Conference of Mayors. "Like: "Do I want to lose a cop in a raid on a crack house when there are 100 other crack houses in my city ? Let's talk about alternatives."

Police Chief Isaac Fulwood of Washington said in an interview:"Our best efforts have not stemmed the flow of drugs. We have to do other things." Chief Charles A. Gruber of Shreveport, La., said in recent Congressional testimony::"For all our policing, we understand that law enforcement is not the solution to the problem of drugs in our society." And Sheriff Sherman Block of Los Angeles County, discussing what he regards as a new police role in reducing the demand for drugs, said, "We have come to the conclusion that while many rsponsibilities belong to other disciplines, if they are not being adequately carried out, at some point we'll have to deal with the failure." The search for alternatives comes against a backdrop of growing strain on police departments, courts and prisons throughout the country.

Sharp Rise in Slayings

The number of homicides has nearly tripled in just four years in Washington, and more than half the slayings now are considered to be drug-related. In Los Angeles County, the District Attorney's Office is predicting 515 slayings by local drug gangs this year, as opposed to 212 in 1984. Forty percent of the 138 people killed in Kansas City, Mo., this year were listed as drug-related, as were 25 percent of the 96 slayings reported in Columbus, Ohio, which never bothered to record such statistics before this year.

Narcotics officers find that the people they once worked to arrest are often quickly released from overcrowded prisons. New York City jails now hold more than 14,000 drug offenders, seven times as many as in 1980. There were 89,112 drug arrests in New York last year, up from 18,563 in 1980. Nationality, the Justice Department says, arrests for drug abuse violations have increased from 162,177 in 1968, or 112 per 100,000 people, to 850,034 last year, or 450 per 100,000 people. And police department overtime budgets, substantially linked to the drug problem, have increased, too. In Los Angeles, they rose from $6.8 million four years ago to $18.5 million for the current fiscal year.

It is the discouragement brought on by these kinds of statistics, along with the lack of manifest results from traditional police methods, that is causing many police officers and officials to believe they themselves have to help try to reduce the drug demand that lies behind the high drug and crime rate. Most of the alternative approaches are still experimental and in the early stages, but they are being seriously tried in thousands of cities.

A Variety of Approaches

Police officers and sheriffs are going into elementary schools in many cities to theach children how to be more assertive and to manage stress, skills needed to resist the lure of drug pushers. The Shreveport Police Department is trying to set up seven centers in poor areas to help young people find prenatal care, jobs and schooling. And in Washington, the police are working with city parks to develop after-school drug-prevention programs.

One program that is serving as a model for other urban police department is called Drug Abuse Resistance Education, or DARE, set up by the Los Angels Police Department and the Los Angeles Unified School Destrict. Specially trained police officers go into fifth- and sixth-grade classrooms to give 17 lessons intended to help children learn to rsist drugs.

The DARE program has now ben adopted by 2,000 localities in 49 states, three foreign countries and Department of Defense schools abroad, reaching an estimated three million children this year. New York City has a similar program, the School Program to Educate and Control Drug Abuse, in which about 100 police officers are now teaching in nearly all the community school districts.

The other day 37 police officers in DARE programs from other parts of California and from departments in Alabama and Minnesota gathered in a hoel conference room in the San Fernando Valley her for instruction in changing hardened street ways into caring teacher skills.

Police Officers as Teachers

It is hardly conventional police training. "We assist them to remove the macho image and become teachers," said Officer Harreld D. Webster, a DARE mentor, who said the program, once dismissed by

many officers as the "kiddie cops" has gained rspect.

The plice "students" heard Officer Mario J. Valdez talk about public speaking skills and listened intently as Bernice Medinnis, a retired Los Angeles teacher, demonstrated teaching techniques that would help create what she called "very positive expectations" among all children.

The police-education programs in California cost an average of $11.94 per student annualy, for officers' salaries, school coordination and materials. Such programs, police officials say, are far cheaper than incarceration. "In Los Angeles alone last year we made over 50,000 narcotics-related arrests more than all the jail beds in California," said Lieut. Larry Goebel, assistant commanding officer of the DARE program. "If we put them all in jail we'd fill all the beds in California just from L.A. So this ias a bargain. Our philosophy is pay me now or pay me later. It's cheaper to pay me now."

Some Resistance Found

Among those in the training session were two officers from Huntsville, Ala., Lonnie Stone and Thomas Dolleslager. They said that while the approach has strong support from their Police Chief, Richard V. Ottman, there was some resistance within the ranks, partly because the program diverted scarce manpower from enforcement and partly because the vice section believes the problem is best handled by more arrests. There has also been resistance from some educators, altough most agree that police officers add a measure of valuable credibility.

In Washington, the Police Department is now working with the Fairline Coalition, a group of citizens that works on crime prevention and with local park workers to give children controlled supervision and drug awareness activities after school.

"We've got to expand those programs, "Chief Fulwood said, "We target kids who are high risk and get them before they get into criminal activity. It's cheaper and makes more sense."

The focus on children is a theme that runs through the new police programs, and as such, coming from once-hard-nosed police officers, it may carry special weight with Congress on financing social programs. The most eloquent arguments for engaging on the demand-reduction front come from police officers, "Senator Pete Wilson, a moderate Republican who is running for Governor of California, said in an interview.

The District Attorney's Office in Los Angeles County recently began a truancy intervention program, on the theory that truancy is an early indication of drug problems and crime. Truant children and their parents now meet with lawyers and hearing officers from the prosecutor's office, who explain the hard legal consequences of truancy.

"Our premise is that truancy is the first indication of criminal behaviour," said Michael E. Tranbarger, assistant director of the bureau of special operations, which also prosecutes gang crimes. "We decided it was time to look at the beginning of the pipeline instead of concentrating all our resources on the other end, when it's too late."

But police officials say they are strapped for resources. The Shreveport Police Department, which has 358 officers, is 50 officers short. And, like many colleagues, Chief Gruber has been lobbying for more Federal aid for drug enforcement. But he also beats the drums for what he calls "problem-oriented policing," by which the police intervene directly to mend social ills. He has applied for a $3 million Federal grant to set up seven "community action" centers in Cedar Grove and other low-income parts of the city to help young people apply for jobs and develop coping skills.

Dubious About More Work

Many departments are strapped to the limits, and some remain dubious about taking on more work. "We don't have time for the education and rehabilitation part," said Lieut. George Gavito of the Cameron County Sheriff's Department in Brownsville, Tex., a major entry point for illecit drugs on the Mexican border.

"Somebody else has to worry about that part. I don't think law enforcement should have anything to do with it. It should be handled by the schools and clinics." Still, fewer and fewer law-enforcement officers are expressing such views; indeed, officers are speaking out philosophically about their reasons for the shifting tactics. What the police have been doing until now in the drug war, said Earl Cronin, president of the Policemen's Association in Washington, is "like trying to drain the ocean with a teaspoon."

In testfying before the House Select Committee on Narcotics Abuse and Controle last month, Chief Gruber,who is President of the International Association of Chiefs of Police, said: "We can certainly add more police, make more arrests, build more jails and increase our capacity to treat addicts. However, this won't solve our problem if the inmates who come out of treatment centers do not have the skills and/or the opportunities and wherewithal to lead productive lives."

Few police officers advocate legalizing illicit drugs, as Federal District Judge Robert W. Sweet urged recently in New York, but some sound similar notes in justifying their efforts to broaden police responsibility. Chief Fulwood of Washington is representative: "We must recognize the socioeconomic side of this.

We've got to have better demand-reduction programs, better treatment facilities. We must build families and communities that have values about murder - that it is not acceptable conduct. When a 13-year-old kid can murder somebody, blow his brains out, and then go home and sleep, there's something wrong."

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