Thursday, April 29, 1999

Drug raiders' annual sweep seeks out 60


Public housing safety is goal

BY JANICE MORSE
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        HAMILTON — When the flowers begin to bloom, so does the drug trade here.

        That's why, for the fourth year in a row, Hamilton police have taken a pre-emptive springtime strike against drug dealers.

        Armed with indictments of 60 people on 260 charges, police and federal agents fanned out Wednesday to arrest suspects in the city's troubled Second Ward.

        “We try to get them in the spring, before they have a chance to really get started,” said Sgt. Dan Pratt. “Something must be working, because out of almost 50 adults, we have only six repeat offenders on the list, and there used to be more.”

        Within the first hour of the sweep, police had rounded up more than two dozen suspects. Police were looking for 49 adults and 11 juveniles on drug abuse and drug-dealing charges as part of Operation Safe Home, a national program designed to make public housing safer.

        The program is being administered through the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development's Office of Inspector General.

        Mike Groszkiewicz, assistant special agent-in-charge of that agency's Chicago office, said Hamilton's program is among about 2,000 nationwide. “It's a three-prong approach,” he said. “We're trying to get rid of gangs, drugs and guns in public housing.”

        Agents from his office intend to survey Hamilton's public housing residents to see whether the anti-drug effort and other initiatives seem to be improving their quality of life, Mr. Groszkiewicz said.

        A total of 607 charges have been filed against 140 adults and 52 juveniles in Hamilton as a result of the four-year effort.

        Each year, as cruisers sit with their lights flashing, residents of the Butler Metropolitan Housing Authority spill out of their homes and watch to see who gets arrested. But they didn't want to talk to reporters; some covered their faces with jackets as TV crews approached.

        But Sgt. Pratt says he knows how some residents feel about the sweeps. “Most of what we're doing is in response to complaints from the community. We just did a survey, door-to-door, and one of the biggest things people say they're concerned about is drug dealing on the street corners,” he said. Other residents feel they are being harassed, Sgt. Pratt said, but police say they're trying to make an impact “on a problem that we think is pretty major.”

        Some residents who weren't even targeted in the bust end up getting arrested because they flee from police, thinking they had been indicted.

        Police Chief Neil Ferdelman, who witnessed some of the arrests, said it's important for citizens to know that such massive sweeps require months of planning and investigation.

        “Citizens are frustrated that they report drug traffick ing and they don't see instant action,” he said. “We want them to know this is a continuing operation and it just shows the importance of cooperation among all agencies.”

        Other agencies that assisted included the Butler County prosecutor's and sheriff's offices.

       



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