IT IS TIME to call out the National Guard.
We are a city awash in drugs, violence and murders. In one year's time, the problem of drug trafficking in our nation's capital has escalated from what police called "epidemic" levels to a full-blown war. We have execution-type murders on public streets in front of hundreds of people and more murders per month than in any other time period in our city's history. Most of these murders are drug-related.
Drugs are sold openly in more than 60 locations in the city. The police department's much publicized Operation Clean Sweep program -- costing more than $6 million in overtime pay -- did not even put a dent in the illegal markets, and they continue to mushroom in all quadrants of the city.
The police, the mayor and the City Council have made drug enforcement the number one priority for the local government but -- as Councilmember H.R. Crawford recognized last Friday in calling for help from the National Guard -- things have only gotten worse. Drug traffickers from out of town have gunned their way into local neighborhoods, taking over streets and buildings. Decent people are afraid to allow their children out to play or even to go to church on Sunday.
The D.C. police are outgunned, outnumbered and outmaneuvered.
Twenty years ago the National Guard was called into Washington as residents burned and looted in the aftermath of the murder of Martin Luther King Jr. Now again we have an out-of-control city, awash with violence. We need the National Guard to stabilize our neighborhoods, direct traffic and create a sense of security, while our police force concentrates on the battle with drug dealers.
A small version of just such an intensive effort was Operation Avalanche which began in December 1985 on one-block-long Hanover Place just 10 blocks from the Capitol. For years the city's busiest Linda Wheeler is a Washington Post staff writer. cocaine market, it had become one of the deadliest blocks in town, the few residents living like prisoners in their homes. The police set up a command center in a trailer, the city cited owners for the dangerous conditions of buildings, trash and abandoned cars were removed. Today Hanover Place remains a transformed area where children play in their yards and adults sit comfortably on front steps.
We need Hanover Place operations all over town, but there are not enough city police to seal off every one of those 60 major markets. With the help of the Guard, maybe we can return other neighborhoods to the people who live there.
Nobody wants drug dealers in their neighborhood, especially not the poor and disadvantaged. Drug trafficking eats away at dreams, the dreams of finishing school, getting a decent job, marrying and having a family. There is much glitter in the expensive toys that drug dealers can afford to buy -- cars, jewelry, clothes. But it is a dead-end life style and even the young people pursuing it seem to realize it. They don't talk much about the future -- their focus is on the deals they're making today and maybe what they'll be doing tonight. Many kids I have talked to say they don't expect to live until tomorrow -- and they could be right. Do we need more police officers? Do we need more overtime pay?
No. We are not making good use of the officers we have, ranging from the 3,800 in the Metropolitan Police Department to the 3,100 other officers who work for the U.S. Park Police, Capitol Police and 20 other police agencies in the city. Many have the same police powers as D.C. police and could become directly involved in solving this city's drug crisis.
Of course, more resources could be used. Giving more officers special drug-control training, for example, would be helpful. But there is plenty we can do with the millions we are already spending on law enforcement if we make better use of the officers we have.
One creative official did just that. Lt. Kerry White works the night shift in the city's central police district, known for its high level of street prostitution. Instead of leaving prostitution control to the work of specialists, White and his uniformed officers went out into the street and simply stood next to the women. Predictably, business fell off quickly. The women moved down a block and so did the officers. Eventually the prostitution trade was pushed outside White's area. Yes, the prostitutes moved on, but with enough Lt. Whites on patrol, ultimately they would be driven out of business.
Uniformed police or members of the National Guard could intimidate the street-level dealer and his customers in the same way. Who would sell drugs in front of an officer? Who would buy them with the police watching -- and let's not forget that without customers the drug business would dry up.
As part of reclaiming our neighborhoods, police can be required to enforce traffic laws. Drugs are transported within our city almost entirely by car. Because the police department has virtually abandoned traffic enforcement in all neighborhoods outside the downtown core, drug dealers as well as ordinary citizens feel they can run red lights, ignore speed limits and skip proper registration. But police who make routine traffic stops have often discovered weapons, drugs and stolen cars. There are plenty of legitimate reasons to stop cars in any neighborhood. Let's use them to make it very difficult for dealers to transport drugs. Few would be willing to walk about town carrying thousand's of dollars worth of illegal drugs.
Critics who say we can't stop drug trafficking in our neighborhoods until the federal government stops drugs from coming into the country are just abdicating responsibility. We may not be able to stop drugs from coming into the city at the boundary line but we sure can make it difficult for anyone to transport, sell or buy them within the city.
The image of armed members of the National Guard standing watch within our city will disturb some people. But it is far more disturbing for those of us who live here to see armed drug dealers taking control of our streets and neighborhoods.