The revamping of the District's drug enforcement offensive brought expressions of dismay yesterday from several D.C. Council members and police officers who oppose reducing the highly visible Operation Clean Sweep at a time when the District is faced with escalating drug-related violence.
"This is certainly not the time to cut anything as it relates to the District of Columbia police department," said council member H.R. Crawford (D-Ward 7). "That would be ludicrous. There would be a groundswell of public outcry against cuts related to the police department, and I'll lead it."
Crawford and several other council members vowed to fight the proposed cutbacks during budget hearings next month. Wilhelmina Rolark (D-Ward 8), chairman of the council Committee on the Judiciary, will hold a news conference today to voice her opposition to the plan.
"We can ill afford to lose an operation of this magnitude and importance," said Rolark. "It is of inestimable value to my community."
The D.C. police department is being forced by Mayor Marion Barry to eliminate the overtime for Clean Sweep because of budgetary concerns, according to police sources. The extensive overtime costs -- more than $5.6 million -- has fueled the 17-month intensive drug crackdown that targets street dealers.
As of Dec. 31, more than 29,000 people have been arrested under Clean Sweep, about 16,000 in connection with drug-related offenses. Police seized 781 weapons, 392 vehicles used in connection with illegal drugs, $1,251,908 in cash, and drugs with a street value of $12,318,832, police said.
"I don't think Operation Clean Sweep has solved all of our problems," said council member Carol Schwartz (R-At Large). "We still have horrendous drug problems in our city. But it has kept the drug dealer on the run and helped disperse the problem. It has made it uncomfortable for dealers. And I don't want their lives made comfortable in any way, shape or form."
Barry denied yesterday, through his spokesman, John C. White, that the drug crackdown is being cut back.
"Operation Clean Sweep has not been halted," said White. "The mayor, as well as the police department, are continously examining other ways to combat the drug war. As the drug dealers become more sophisticated, the police have to become more sophisticated to supplement the efforts already being made."
But Barry would not comment on the slashing of overtime, which police sources said the department had used because it could not spare officers on regular pay from other divisions.
A high-ranking police source said that Barry opposed Clean Sweep in its present form because it was costly and the drug-related arrests stemming from the operation are flooding the city's crowded prisons.
"Drugs are driving up my population," said Hallem H. Williams Jr., director of the D.C. Corrections Department. "To the extent that Clean Sweep or any other stepped-up efforts are successful, that obviously contributes to our population surges."
The new Operation Clean Sweep unit may consist of 40 to 50 police officers taken from police headquarters and another 50 officers from the city's police districts. The department is also considering converting the Repeat Offenders Project, a well-publicized and nationally known unit that tracks career criminals, into a narcotics unit, police sources said.
"It's a mistake to cut out Operation Clean Sweep overtime because the personnel that will make up the new unit are coming out of areas that can't afford to lose them," said Gary Hankins, chairman of the Fraternal Order of Police labor committee. "We are going to reduce the overall effectivness of the department. They are robbing Peter to pay Paul."
Hankins called for hiring more police officers, rather than shuffling officers from one district to another. "We flat out need 500 additional officers in order to respond to the demands that the drug wars are putting on the department," he said.
"If the perception out there on the streets becomes that this is a surrender or a tactical retreat, we will have lost the war on drugs," Hankins said.
Police Chief Maurice T. Turner Jr. would not comment yesterday on the restructuring of the drug enforcement program. Assistant Chief Isaac P. Fulwood, who oversees the department's field operations, also declined to comment on the dismantling of Clean Sweep. Inspector Ed Spurlock, who heads the Repeat Offenders unit, could not be reached.