Nearly 1,400 District children, 38 percent of them 15 years old or younger, have been arrested on drug-related charges during the last 11 months under Operation Clean Sweep, according to D.C. police.
On Tuesday night, for example, a 10-year-old boy was picked up in the 100 block of Wayne Place SE, for the third time in less than a month, on charges of possession with intent to distribute PCP, a powerful hallucinogenic drug. On July 17, an 8-year-old boy was picked up for possession with intent to distribute PCP in the 200 block of N Street SW, police said.
The two boys are among 1,370 children between the ages of 8 and 17 who have been arrested on drug-related charges under Operation Clean Sweep since last Aug. 31, police said. Of those arrested, 524, or 38 percent, have been 15 years old or younger, and 846, or 62 percent, have been 16 or 17 years old.
"There are more and more young people in the drug market and they are actively involved. The trend has been, and the arrest data indicate, more and more juveniles are selling," said Isaac Fulwood Jr., assistant police chief for field operations, who runs Operation Clean Sweep.
Most of the recent arrests reflect drug dealing activity rather than simple possession, as was the case a decade ago, police said, and involve harder drugs than the marijuana that prevailed in the 1970s. Today, the drug of choice among city youths is PCP, followed by cocaine and marijuana. PCP frequently makes users violent and can cause brain damage.
Between 1977 and 1983, arrests of juveniles citywide on drug-related charges, most of them for possession, hovered between 300 and 400 a year.
In 1984 and 1985, about 600 youths per year were arrested on drug-related charges, and last year, about 1,100 were arrested throughout the city.
Operation Clean Sweep, the city's 11-month-old drug dragnet, operates in every section of the city but Georgetown and upper Northwest, where street sales of drugs are rare.
Undercover officers target drug-infested areas, make arrests, then move on to other problem areas, often returning to the same neighborhoods repeatedly.
Between June 1 and July 22, for example, 73 juveniles were picked up by Clean Sweep officers on drug-related charges in the 7th Police District, a Southeast area of the city bounded by Pennsylvania Avenue, the Anacostia and Potomac rivers and the Prince George's County border. The district contains the highest number of children and of public housing projects in the city.
Lured by the easy money of drugs, children are increasingly involved in the distribution of powerful drugs that can bring handsome profits.
"Parents are reaping the benefits of their kids being involved in the drug trade. There is an underground economy that grows out of the illegal drug activity," Fulwood said. "Your kid comes home with a gold Rolex watch, a diamond ring and a gold chain big enough to choke an elephant -- even if you're working, you know you didn't give it to him."
The 10-year-old boy was arrested shortly after 7 p.m. Tuesday in a half-vacant apartment complex known for drug activity after he sold two $20 tinfoil packets of PCP to an undercover officer. The child, who told police he lives with his working, single mother in the 100 block of Danbury Street SE, was wearing gold chains, a designer nylon jogging suit and expensive sneakers, Capt. Claude Beheler said.
"He knows what's going on. He's no dummy," said Beheler, commander of the 7th District's Operation Clean Sweep. "It's the finances behind it that drives them to sell the drugs. It's got to do with stature, the clothes and jewelry. Most of them aren't users."
About 30 percent of juveniles facing criminal charges in D.C. Superior Court who agreed to be tested for drugs since March 1984 have tested positive, about eight out of 10 of them for PCP, according to the Pretrial Services Agency, which decides whether people who are arrested should be freed or held pending trial.
Police released the boy to his mother after his first arrest on July 16, and the juvenile court again released him after his second arrest on July 30, officials said. But he spent Tuesday and last night at the city's Juvenile Receiving Home on Mount Olivet Road NE, and a judge has ordered a psychiatric screening test for him today, a first step in the process the court uses to decide what to do with juveniles.
But options for such young people are limited, according to some city officials, who cite a dearth of treatment facilities and drug programs for city youths. The issue is expected to receive increased attention from criminal justice and city officials in the coming months, according to John C. White, press secretary to Mayor Marion Barry.
"The mayor's concerned with how do you get help to the kids and to the family. He's very concerned about the increasing number of children, especially the repeat offenders, getting involved in illegal activity and getting swept into the net of a life of crime," White said.