With the current crackdown on illicit drug traffic on Washington's streets, D.C. police have been thrust into the news more prominently than usual. Washington Post staff writer Athelia Knight recently interviewed new D.C. Police Chief Maurice T. Turner for his views on the crackdown as well as other law enforcement issues. Turner also assessed his first seven weeks as chief of police.
Q: Co you think these drug sweeps are doing any good?
A: I think it's being disruptive to the environment and the atmosphere that [is] presently up in the Seventh and T Street corridor. What we intend to do is reinforce that with other phases. In fact, we are going to start . . . augmenting that by placing an additional 40 officers up in some of the [other] drug corridors and just concentrate on making the arrests.
Q: When you say, you're going to start with an additional 40 officers, is this a new detail?
A: The 40 additional officers are assigned to the narcotics branch. They have been instructed to go up into the areas where people are disbursing drugs and where people are buying drugs, to arrest individuals - the sellers and the buyers. We are going to start confiscating cars. We can do that under the law.
Q: Some of the drug addicts claim that the sweeps are driving up the price of heroin. Is that true?
A: I don't really think we are driving the price up. We are making it harder for users to buy it, and we make it harder for sellers to sell it.
Q: They also claim that drug dealers are being pushed into residential areas and into homes. Is that true?
A: It's probably what we call vertical patrol, where individuals go inside of houses and apartments and start selling. There will be some of that and we plan to get those people, too. But the street sales are going to be down significantly.
Q: How do you stop the influx of heroin into D.C.?
A: I don't really think a local police department can stop the importation of heroin into its community. It's got to be something that is done from a federal standpoint. There is going to have to be coordination with foreign governments, the State Department, the Drug Enforcement Agency and U.S. Customs to hopefully abate some of the drugs that are coming into the country.
Q: Some of the drug dealers on Seventh Street have complained that you should be out getting the major importers instead of them. What do you think about that?
A: What we are going to try to do is to get all the guys -- the big ones and the little ones. Drug investigation is a complex and complicated thing. A lot of the people who are involved in drugs put a lot of buffers between them and a lot of layers. Oftentimes we do not get the individuals who are the generals, but we are probably getting some of the lieutenants and sergeants down the line. But we are working on them and trying to ascertain through wiretaps and informants and develop information to hopefully identify some major traffickers in drugs and hopefully get some successful prosecutions and convictions.
Q: Do you favor legalizing heroin?
A: I'm not in favor of legalizing heroin or any type of drugs. I think we are going to keep on locking [drug users and sellers] up.
Q: Let's go to another topic - prostitution. What do you think of the tougher stance city judges are now taking in sentencing prostitutes for soliciting customers?
A: I think the overall effect will be that the work will somehow make its way to the street and some of the prostitutes will probably leave town. The sentence that I read in the paper the other day -- a year -- is very severe. Once you take the profit out of prostitution, I think you're going to run some of the prostitutes out of this city.
Q: The prostitutes maintain that they are only satisfying the needs of their customers and what they do should not be against the law. How do you feel about that?
A: I am not in favor of legalizing prostitution.
Q: The residents around Logan Circle have been among the strongest advocates of ridding neighborhoods of prostitutes. They have even begun putting "disease warning" stickers on cars in the neighborhood suspected of being used by customers of prostitutes. How do you feel about that.?
A: Well, I think community awareness in any form of law enforcement will have an effect on what's occurring in those areas. It's one [element] of the 13-point program that the mayor announced to ge a concerned community to be the eyes and ears. However, some of the complaints I have been getting from some of the legitimate people who pass through that area is that they ride up through the 14th Street area and once they get past Logan Circle, people are placing stickers on their cars and they object to that. I'm sure I will voice those concerns to some of the people [residents] in that area.
Q: How is the 13-point crime prevention plan going?
A: We are having some successes in some of the areas, especially the neighborhood watch. We go in and mark neighborhoods, and we have nosy neighbors and we post signs. There appears to be in those areas where a neighborhood watch is in place that there is a decrease in the number of burglaries. But on the other hand, where we have had that decrease here, it has picked up in other areas where we do not have a neighborhood watch. We are still evaluating it.
Q: Overall, what can you say about crime in the city? Is crime up or down?
A: Crime is up, and in my opinion it's going up because of the epidemic in the narcotic problem that we are having in the city. The burglaries, the larcenies are up tremendously. Robberies are about status quo. Those property crimes where people are stealing things so they can sell them quickly to obtain money to buy drugs are of major concern to me.
Q: You have been police chief since July 1. How would you assess your first seven weeks as chief?
A: I think it has been a very good transition period. I'm beginning to put in place some of my ideas and philosophies. One of the major things that I see is with the resources we have I want to begin to manage officers' patrol time. I want to begin to manage criminal investigations. These are the directions we are heading in. [Assistant Chief Marty M.] Tapscott is out of town today in Atlanta, Ga., and Charlotte, N.C., to look at their telephone report writing units. In the Atlanta police department, 40 percent of the reports are made by the telephone report writing unit [rather than by street officers]. I want to increase the number of reports made by our telephone report writing unit so I can free up those officers and direct their patrol time to some of the other activities that are occurring in the city and hopefully achieve some preventive patrol -- a medium of maybe 50 percent patrol time and 50 percent the other time on calls for service. We are beginning to place a lot of these things into action.
Q: After the drug sweeps this week, are there any other surprises we can expect?
A: There are no other surprises. I'm basically concerned about the concerns of the community. You know, the community is concerned about disorderly gangs, abandoned automobiles, abandoned hourse and things like that, and I'm concerned about these things too. There are other problems in the community besides crime that prople call police for because the police department is an agency open 24 hour a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year. So when they can't find anyone else, they call the police. I feel very comfortable with the first month and a half I've been in office and the way things are beginning to shape up.