Members of a special task force descended on 15 Los Angeles schools and arrested 83 suspected drug peddlers in an operation designed to deliver the message that such activity will not be tolerated near school grounds, U.S. Atty. Robert Bonner said Thursday.
The crackdown--described as the first of its kind in the nation under a tough federal schoolyard law--was aimed at “hot spots” where drug dealers operate on sidewalks, in alleyways and in houses near schools.
The arrests, over a 12-hour period Wednesday, were made by 250 Los Angeles Police Department narcotics officers and special agents of the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency posing as drug buyers at schools scattered from the San Fernando Valley to Wilmington.
“With this operation, we are sending a strong and clear message that we will not tolerate drug dealing near our schools,” Bonner said at a joint press conference with city and county officials. “The time has come to reclaim our schoolyards, and our children, from exposure to drug dealers.
“By vigorously enforcing the federal schoolyard law, it is our intention to deactivate drug sale ‘hot spots’ near our schools--to create drug-free zones around our schools.”
The federal statute, which prohibits the sale of illegal drugs in any quantities within 1,000 feet of a school, carries a mandatory minimum sentence of one year to a maximum of 40 years in prison, without possibility of parole.
Deputy Los Angeles Police Chief Glenn Levant said one of the suspects arrested Wednesday was only 15 feet from children playing on a Van Nuys school ground. The ages of those arrested ranged from 14 to 49.
“In one unusual instance, we had a juvenile gang member suspect who was using an adult to sell narcotics,” Levant said. He described the 17-year-old youth as the “kingpin of the drug organization.”
While seizing PCP and rock cocaine, narcotics officers also recovered 10 guns, including a fully automatic weapon hidden under once suspect’s coat and a powerful handgun jammed in the pocket of another, Levant said.
Assistant U.S. Atty. Susan Bryant Deason said that 24 of those arrested will be charged under the schoolyard statute. Charges against the remaining 59 will be filed in state court by the Los Angeles County district attorney’s office, she said.
“People are shocked to learn that most of the heavy drug-trafficking areas in Los Angeles are in and around our schools, and yet it’s true,” Dist. Atty. Ira Reiner told reporters at Thursday’s news conference. “What we need is to have our schools be a safe sanctuary for children, and that’s what we in law enforcement are going to do with what we call zero tolerance.”
The 15 “hot spot” schools targeted by authorities for Wednesday’s operation were:
St. John’s Evangelist School, Langdon Avenue School, Bethune Junior High School, Hyde Park Elementary, Alvarado Garden Grammar School, Charles Maclay Junior High School, Ascot Elementary School, Haddon Avenue School, Grant Elementary, Penny Lane School, Loyola High School, Main Street Elementary School, Vaughn Street Elementary School, Sierra Vista Elementary School and Hawaiian Avenue Elementary School.