The District, faced with escalating drug-related violence, is revamping its drug enforcement offensive, which could significantly reduce the role of its highly visible Operation Clean Sweep.
Police Chief Maurice T. Turner Jr. said yesterday that police and city officials have been meeting "to enhance the department's drug-fighting efforts." Clean Sweep, a 16-month-old crackdown on street dealing that requires extensive overtime costs, forms the heart of the city's current antidrug program.
Turner, Assistant Chief Isaac P. Fulwood and a number of other ranking department officials have met with Mayor Marion Barry and other city officials during the last week to discuss the future of Clean Sweep, which has been in flux since last month, police sources said. Barry did not respond to questions about Clean Sweep given to his press secretary, John C. White.
"The meetings are designed to develop strategies and different approaches to combat the city's drug problem," Turner said in a prepared statement. "We are still in the planning stage, and it would be premature to reveal any details at this time. However, any proactive program initiated by the department would be in conjunction with the existing Operation Clean Sweep drug offensive."
However, a police source familiar with the proposed changes, who asked not be identified, said that insufficient money for overtime has forced the department to gut Operation Clean Sweep.
Clean Sweep, in its present form, will be virtually eliminated, the source said, because Barry believes that it is too costly and that the number of drug-related arrests stemming from the operation is flooding the city's prison system.
"Clean Sweep is history," the source said.
Operation Clean Sweep may soon consist of about 40 to 50 police officers from police headquarters and another 50 officers from the city's police districts assigned to work on some type of police drug enforcement unit. The difference is that no overtime will be permitted on the unit, a police source said.
"We don't have enough people," said the source. "We need overtime to get sufficient people on the street. This is sending a bad message to drug dealers."
"I just hope to God that there's an alternative being developed somewhere," said Gary Hankins, chairman of the Fraternal Order of Police labor committee. "It's clear that outside, organized drug distribution networks have identified the District as ripe territory and are moving in. We cannot allow that to go unchallenged."
Police officials are considering the possibility of creating a permanent drug task force that would be composed of some federal law enforcement officers, uniformed officers, narcotics detectives and possibly homicide detectives. The unit would not only target street dealers but would also investigate their suppliers, sources said. But no action has been taken on the idea.
About 60 percent of the 227 District killings last year were linked to the city's flourishing drug trade. Most of the nearly 100 unsolved homicides are considered drug-related. In the last 41 days, there have been 40 homicides in the city, police said.
Operation Clean Sweep was criticized at its inception for controversial tactics, including narcotics officers posing as drug dealers, selling PCP and arresting the buyers. As part of the operation, police seized vehicles used by their owners in allegedly illegal drug transactions and created command centers in some drug-infested neighborhoods.
The future of the antidrug program was threatened in April when police officials announced that lack of overtime funds would force them to shut down the operation.
News of the planned cancellation brought charges of political game playing and dismay and anger from political leaders and civic groups. Barry, who was out of town during the controversy, sharply criticized Turner and City Administrator Thomas M. Downs, saying that they "must be brain dead" for allowing an internal budget debate to balloon into a public dispute.
The program was resumed 24 hours after the decision to curtail it, but half of the 200 officers assigned to the unit were cut, a source said.
Barry and Turner visited a notorious Northeast drug market in August, the one-year anniversary of the program, to announce that Clean Sweep had netted more than 23,000 arrests -- 55 percent of them for drug-related offenses -- and a $5.6 million bill for police overtime and court costs. Police officials said yesterday that the number of arrests had climbed to 30,000, but they could not estimate the overtime bill.
Despite the escalating costs of the program, Barry said last week that the District, like other major cities, is hampered by the international aspect of drug traffic and the ability of drug dealers to evade police officers and use superior weapons.
Staff writer Tom Sherwood contributed to this report.