President Bush’s visit to Orange County on Tuesday to drop off $4.39 million in money seized from drug dealers by the countywide drug task force did more than spotlight the federal campaign against drugs. It also refocused attention on the war being waged in Orange County, which has become one of the major drug centers in the nation.
The battle against pushers and users in Orange County is being fought on two fronts. The return of the confiscated money dramatically emphasized the success of the countywide enforcement effort against narcotics that has been spearheaded by Orange County Sheriff-Coroner Brad Gates and his department. The county task force, since its inception in December, 1986, has seized $38.8 million in cash and enough cocaine to provide about 17 doses for every man, woman and child in the county.
But the enforcement effort is only half the battle. Police know too well that they can never stop the flow and get all the deadly drugs off the street. So they must fight a two-front war with the emphasis on prevention to keep people, especially youngsters, from turning on to drugs in the first place.
Gates has been a leader in trying to rally the community and recruit students and business leaders to join his crusade against drugs. The Sheriff’s Department has a drug-education program in the schools. Cities, such as Santa Ana, have also been active in trying to reach youngsters early, before pushers and gang leaders do. And the school districts have programs too.
The momentum and community commitment does not seem to be slowing down. On Tuesday, while the President was singling out the county’s anti-drug efforts, Disneyland was presenting its top community service award and $50,000 to a student organization started last year that wrote and produced three anti-drug videos.
And a coalition of 15 church congregations, targeting the two largest cities in the county, earlier this month persuaded the Anaheim and Santa Ana city councils to agree to launch a coordinated effort to help eradicate drugs.
That approach zeroed in on one potential weakness in the county’s war on drugs that was noted by the 1986-87 county grand jury that concluded that substance-abuse programs lacked coordination. Before the police task force was formed, the enforcement effort in the county was fragmented and weak. The anti-drug effort on the education front could be strengthened too, with a stronger dose of coordination.