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In D.C., Price of Cocaine Soars as Supply Declines

John Walters of the White House said increased drug enforcement efforts should eventually curtail crime.
John Walters of the White House said increased drug enforcement efforts should eventually curtail crime. (By Nikki Kahn -- The Washington Post)

In New York, police officials said they have noticed a 50 percent increase in the price of cocaine. "A price increase of this magnitude is usually a reliable indicator of a decline in supply," said Deputy Police Commissioner Paul J. Browne, who said that officers have contributed to the shortage by seizing twice as much cocaine this year as they did in 2006.

Walters said the U.S. government has worked with Colombia to limit coca production and with Mexico to intercept shipments of cocaine. He said that stepped-up border protection has also helped reduce supplies.

"They've been running checkpoints at major roadways, deploying more personnel in key border areas," Walters said last week. "We have developed a specific set of techniques in response to the dealers. We are squeezing their capacity to supply the market at the level they were before."

Walters said he expects that the efforts will lead to less crime in U.S. cities in the long-term.

Sen. Charles E. Grassley (R-Iowa) has challenged the way that Walters and the DEA keep track of prices and supply, and he expressed skepticism yesterday.

"Higher prices, lower purity and fewer drugs on America's streets are positive signs, but this is only a snapshot of the last nine months, so it wouldn't be accurate for the Drug Czar's office to draw broader conclusions," Grassley said in a statement. "I hope these signs indicate a turning of the tide and that over the long haul, the partnership between Colombia, Mexico and the United States yields lasting results."

In the District, Ronald Moten, co-founder of Peaceoholics, a community-based group that works to solve disputes among young people, said he has noticed less cocaine on the streets for months. He said he thinks that some shootings, robberies and fights in the city have resulted from a tightening market.

"When you take away supply, more people are willing to take from others," Moten said. "It brings conflicts. It changes the whole dynamic of the scene."

Sgt. Dale Sutherland, a D.C. narcotics investigator who focuses on Latino drug operations mainly in Northwest Washington, said that during the summer and early fall, his informants often struggled to find large quantities of cocaine. His squad has found it more difficult to build larger cases, he said.

"It's definitely harder to get a kilo. We're sitting a lot of the time," waiting to find dealers with the illicit product, said Sutherland, who has 20 years of drug enforcement experience.

On a recent weeknight patrol, Officer Alvin Lytel was hunting for drug activity in Southeast Washington. He drove to 30th and Hartford streets, a spot normally filled with small-time dealers who shoot dice while they wait for cars with Maryland and Virginia license plates to drive up from nearby Southern Avenue to buy crack.

"These streets are empty out here," Lytel said, patrolling four spots in an hour before he found one with activity.

"People are still smoking crack," Lytel said. "It's just harder for them to find it."

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