It's day 31 of the D.C. police crackdown on drugs. There have been more than 600 arrests and only one heroin overdose death so far this month. Heroin addicts seeking treatment each day in the narcotics centers have increased 30 percent. The price of preludin, a heroin substitute, has doubled. The crowds in some drug-trafficking areas have diminished.
Does this mean the crackdown is working?
"It's effective in that we don't have the crowds or loitering in the drug trafficking areas," said D.C. Police Chief Maurice T. Turner. "We are disrupting that traffic. We are making arrests."
"It's making people look for places to go for treatment," said Ronald Clark, head of RAP Inc., a treatment center. "We are being swamped."
He said his agency, which already has 58 persons in its program, has a waiting list of more than 200 addicts who are seeking treatment.
Some heroin addicts, out of fear of being arrested during drug purchases on the street, have turned to treatment centers dispensing methadone, a heroin substitute.
George E. Powell, chief of the central intake for the city's Alcohol and Drug Abuse Administration, said his office is seeing an average of 16 addicts a day. Before the crackdown, the applicants averaged only 10 a day, Powell said.
"The attempt on the part of the police to do something has to be commended," Clark said. However, he said, "The approach is missing something. We have to have the facilities and funds available to treat those who want it."
Earlier this month, heroin overdose deaths had hit an all-time high of 86 for the year, compared to the old record of 82 set in all of 1971. Since mid-August when the crackdown began, there has only been nine drug overdose deaths, one of which occurred this month.
"There has been a marked decrease," said Dr. James L. Luke, the city's medical examiner. "It's a hopeful trend, but we don't know if it is directly related to the crackdown."
Some members of the community and politicians also praise the police work. "The work at 14th and T has been great," said Councilman David A. Clarke. However, he said, "I have begun to pick up on concerns about other heavy locations."
"It's not been effective here," said Louis Bey, a beauty salon owner at Ninth and U streets NW. "They are running them away from Seventh Street, but they drive them in front of my place."
The movement of the drug addicts from one location to another is a problem facing the police. "We are extremely effective on the immediate, but not on the long range," said Lt. Ron Harvey, head of the police 3rd District drug enforcement branch.
"It's like you go into a lake," Harvey continued. "You say, 'I have devised a plan that's called Operation Suction. I'm going to take all the water out of the lake.' People say, 'Wow' and you do it. But what you fail to tell them is that there is a new canal that's developed overnight."
D.C. police have devised all sorts of methods in the drug crackdown from the use of video cameras and water trucks to intimidate and disrupt buyers and sellers on the street to even an undercover officer wearing a Schlitz Malt Liquor bull costume to make surprise arrests.
The bull costume did not go over to well with the Schlitz Brewing Company, which complained about the tactic. However, Deputy Chief James Kelly of the 7th District said the tactic that nabbed a major heroin dealer "did so much for police morale. They thought of it as a victory."
A couple of weeks ago, 3rd District police initiated another tactic, called Operation Oregano Scam, where police, posing as drug dealers at 15th and Chapin Streets NW, sold authentic-looking packets of phony marijuana to buyers. The objective was to give Chapin Street, long a center for marijuana dealers, a bad name and drive the buyers away.
"It discourages people from coming to the area," said Turner, who first learned of Operation Oregano Scam when he read about it in the newspaper.
Of the various police tactics, Turner said, "We have some pretty ingenious officers who come up with stuff. I support them as long as what they do is not illegal."
Since Aug. 18, various police units, including a 40-member special narcotics detail, have made more than 600 arrests of drug buyers and sellers. The special narcotics detail have recovered six handguns, two rifles, and $17,644. Also among those arrested have been two parole violators, four fugitives and four persons being sought for robbery.