U.S. Unveils Plan to Fight D.C. Drugs : Will Build Prisons, Deploy Agents in $80-Million Effort
The Bush Administration on Monday unveiled an $80-million plan to build prisons in the nation’s capital and deploy federal agents in its streets in an effort to crack down on an unprecedented wave of drug-related violence.
At the same time, the Administration took steps to banish drug traffickers from public housing projects across the country by installing fences around the complexes and speeding the eviction of known drug dealers.
The two efforts--announced by William J. Bennett, director of the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy; Atty. Gen. Dick Thornburgh and Housing and Urban Development Secretary Jack Kemp--mark the first formal anti-drug initiatives aimed at fulfilling President Bush’s vow that “this scourge will end.”
The new funding for the District of Columbia will seek to ease strains on overcrowded jails and overburdened police in an effort to rid the streets of the drug offenders whose turf wars have transformed the city into the nation’s murder capital.
In outlining the plan, Bennett harshly denounced city officials for an “irresponsibility . . . that requires the federal government to step in to do things that they should be doing for themselves.”
But Bennett also said the crackdown likely would be repeated in other jurisdictions later this year after his office issues its congressionally mandated recommendations about the course of the nation’s anti-drug policy.
The selection of Washington for the first major assault should not be taken as a signal that “other cities are going to be ignored,” Bennett said. “They’re not.”
Washington Mayor Marion Barry told reporters Monday that he welcomes federal assistance and the “idea of Washington being a model” in programs to fight drugs.
Barry, whose troubled Administration was said by Bennett to have “failed to serve its citizens,” left a news conference before reporters could ask him if he had been offended by the criticism.
Prosecutors and other law enforcement personnel in the District of Columbia long have complained about a lack of prison space and a lack of progress toward construction of a new federal prison for which Congress already has appropriated $50 million.
The result, Bennett charged Monday, is that “thousands of people regularly arrested for drugs and other serious crimes . . . regularly go free.”
The Administration plan seeks to remedy that problem by transferring 250 already-sentenced prisoners from the District of Columbia jail to facilities elsewhere in the federal system, thus opening jail space to defendants arrested in the stepped-up drive against drug violators.
In the longer term, the plan calls for two new jail and prison facilities in the Washington area to be completed within two years. They will include a 500-bed pretrial detention facility on excess federal land and a 700-bed federal correctional institution to serve the Washington-Baltimore area.
The federal agents to be deployed in the effort will help to coordinate a new task force that will concentrate on crack cocaine distributors and to form a unified intelligence operation that will work with all metropolitan-area drug enforcement units.
57 Investigators and Staff
Thornburgh said the task force will include 57 additional federal, state and local investigators and support staff, including 11 Drug Enforcement Administration agents and five Pentagon intelligence analysts.
The FBI temporarily will reassign 25 agents to provide technical and forensic advice for investigations of major drug distribution networks and violent crime tied to drugs. The bureau is to set up a central database to catalogue rapidly increasing homicides in the city as part of a program designed to apprehend the most violent criminals.
There were 372 homicides reported in Washington last year, and the city’s 58 murders per 100,000 citizens was the highest rate in the nation. Already this year, 135 people have been killed, setting a pace exceeding last year’s record clip.
The National Guard had been expected to play a role in the anti-drug crackdown, but the plan announced Monday indicated that the Guard’s involvement is “currently under review.” Administration officials said, however, that the Guard almost certainly will be enlisted to assist law enforcement officers with administrative duties and might also help to patrol city streets.
U.S. to Take Some Cases
In an attempt to ensure that drug traffickers are subject to stringent penalties, the officials said, U.S. Atty. Jay B. Stephens will transfer “appropriate cases” from the local court to U.S. District Court, where federal laws calling for mandatory prison terms can be invoked.
In addition, cases subject to the death penalty under sweeping anti-drug legislation approved by Congress last year also may be prosecuted by federal authorities rather than by the District of Columbia, where there is no capital punishment.
Despite its broad scope, the plan stopped short of declaring Washington a “high-intensity drug trafficking area,” a designation that could have given the Administration power to marshal even more sweeping federal resources.
Bennett previously had indicated that he planned to make such an announcement but said Monday that his office had not determined the basis on which such a designation should be made. He indicated that the Administration is wary of setting a precedent that could have encouraged other cities immediately to apply for similar assistance.
Reason for Choosing Capital
“There is a special relationship between Washington and the federal government, and I think most Americans understand that,” Bennett said, explaining the choice of the city for the first major drug assault.
He said the government was acting on a “kind of emergency basis” in Washington “to see what we can learn” about future anti-drug efforts.
The crackdown in the nation’s public housing projects, announced by Kemp, would seek to rid the complexes of the increasing influence of drug dealers and drug users. Kemp distributed the recommendations Monday in “action memos” to housing administrators around the country.
The most far-reaching plan, already adopted in Virginia and now scheduled for the District of Columbia, would allow HUD to speed evictions of individuals convicted of drug-related criminal offenses by denying them the right to appeal those evictions to an administrative board.
Protection for Tenants
Kemp said such steps would be approved only in states where existing laws afford proper protection to tenants. But he made clear that the purpose is “to remove HUD as a barrier from getting those folks evicted.”
A second measure focuses on efforts to increase security at public housing compounds by barring known drug dealers, requiring tenants to use photo identification cards, increasing police patrols and building fences around some complexes.
Kemp also urged housing administrators to take steps to evict unlawful tenants and to ensure that individuals evicted from one complex for drug offenses are not permitted to take up residence in other public housing.
In Los Angeles, Gary Squier, who took over Monday as acting director of the troubled Los Angeles City Housing Authority, said the authority had not taken a position on waiving the administrative appeals procedure.
Squier said the authority would need federal funding to beef up its existing police force in the city’s 21 public housing complexes but rejected the proposed identification card scheme as unfeasible.
“Chicago and New York housing projects are vertical--tall buildings,” he said. “Ours are spread over 50 acres. If you just look at the topography, to have guards at each of the access points would require a lot of staffing.”
Staff writer Penelope McMillan in Los Angeles contributed to this story.