Increased Use of PCP Worries Authorities in D.C.

By Keith L. Alexander
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Damon D. Taylor had been smoking PCP before he walked into his mother's bedroom this month and shot her several times in the chest as she lay in bed, police say.

Charlese J. Hall tested positive for PCP when she was arrested in the stabbing death of her 7-year-old daughter in December.

Derek J. Green also had been using PCP in July before he drove his car onto a sidewalk along Alabama Avenue SE at more than 60 miles an hour, pinning a pedestrian against another car.

D.C. police, prosecutors and drug testing agencies are bracing for more PCP-related violence. Ten percent of adult defendants now test positive for the drug, the highest rate in five years, according to D.C. Pretrial Services. The number of people with PCP in their system arrested on murder and sexual assault charges jumped to 12 last year, up from three in 2007.

Police are concerned by the trend, because in several categories of crime -- assault, murder, robbery and burglary, for example -- the raw numbers, though small, have doubled or even tripled in the past year.

"It's a very scary, scary drug for us," said D.C. Police Chief Cathy L. Lanier, who noticed the upward trend more than a year ago. "There's just so much violence surrounding it."

The rise in PCP use comes as crack cocaine use by criminal defendants fell to its lowest level -- 30 percent -- since the District began keeping records in 1995. Crack pushed aside the market for PCP, or phencyclidine, which had been popular in the 1970s and 1980s. On the streets, it was known as "Love Boat" or "Buck Naked" because users often shed their clothes to cool off.

Prosecutors in other jurisdictions are also seeing an increase. Glenn F. Ivey, the Prince George's County state's attorney, called current PCP-related violence "surprising" and said it is a reminder of his time as a prosecutor in the District during the crack years, when battles over turf and cash spun out of control. Ivey said defendants under the influence of PCP are now "routine."

In November, a Montgomery County man was sentenced to 85 years in prison for stabbing one man to death, carjacking three others and wounding yet another during an eight-day rampage a year ago. At sentencing, Calvin Currica's attorney said Currica smoked PCP cigarettes and drank beer and cheap wine before the rampage.

Last June, in the Port Republic area of Southern Maryland, a 49-year-old man was accused of fatally shooting his brother as they sat in a garage smoking marijuana cigarettes dipped in PCP.

Most Virginia police departments do not separate PCP from other drugs in their statistics, so it is difficult to determine the extent of any problem in those jurisdictions. Officials in Fairfax and Arlington counties said they have seen no increase.

In the District, the resurgence of PCP, like most drugs, is cyclical. Use of the drug dropped to a low of 6 percent among criminal defendants in 2004 from a high of 14 percent in 2002. During its peak, PCP users dipped marijuana cigarettes into a tiny bottle of PCP. Today, PCP users are dipping store-bought cigarettes into a bottle of PCP, or "making them wet," for $25 a dip, says Inspector Brian Bray, who heads the D.C. police narcotics unit.

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