Wednesday, December 11, 2002
Illegal drug sales
A dilemma over how to fight dealers
Charlotte Wethington, a Northern Kentucky resident, came to Cincinnati's City hall Tuesday to convince council members that the city's drug problem is a suburban drug problem, too.
Ms. Wethington lost her only child, 23-year-old Casey, to a heroin overdose in August.
An admitted addict, he bought his drugs near where he lived, his mother said, on Republic Street in Over-the-Rhine. He told her his dealer would set up a lawn chair and sell drugs in the open.
Now she wants that open-air drug market shut down.
Since Casey's death, Ms. Wethington and other family members have been to his hangouts. The dealers came out to her car, yelling through rolled-up windows that they have what she needs - drugs.
"They acted without apprehension," she said. "There are a lot of expensive cars there for such a poor neighborhood."
She has been trying to find out information about "Sweets," the street name for her son's dealer. She has approached police, neighborhood people, city officials.
No luck. But she keeps trying.
"My friends ask me why I keep doing this, why I keep bringing it up,'' she said. "They don't realize, it's always in front of my face, every day."
On Tuesday she spoke in a public hearing at City Council about a new law that some hope will help.
City Council's Law and Public Safety Committee asked for public input to draft an anti-loitering ordinance designed to give police greater ability to crack down on obvious drug dealing and related activities that are less obvious.
The law would make it a misdemeanor to regularly stop cars or people, to conceal items from public view, to run away from police or to operate as a "spotter" who warns dealers about police.
The key is targeting the ordinance at drug dealers with language making it clear that police can arrested people for these activities if they show an intent to sell drugs, Councilman David Pepper said.
There may still be legal problems with the law, nevertheless.
As some in the audience pointed out, many loitering ordinances have been struck down or not enforced because they violate civil rights. In some cities they've been used as a pretext to roust certain types of loiterers, namely young men and minorities.
Also, this new misdemeanor may not make it any easier to get a conviction.
"How can you tell what someone's intent is? It's a long-established legal principle that intent alone cannot make something a criminal act,'' one man in the audience added.
Ms. Wethington said she's frustrated when police say they can't stop these dealers, even though many are doing their nefarious business in the most obvious ways.
Police Chief Tom Streicher also was being careful not to endorse or bad-mouth the new loitering proposal.
The new ordinance "would be another tool" for officers, he said, but he wouldn't predict that it would help eradicate rampant dealing.
Even with expanded abilities to arrest people who may be drug dealers, there's still a revolving door at the courthouse that allows suspects to return to the streets while police officers are still filling out the paperwork on their arrests, Chief Streicher said.
Judges set low bonds or let suspects free without bond. Defense attorneys do their jobs. Police, he said, may be easy to blame, but they're not the only ones involved.
Tell that to Ms. Wethington.
"Many parents live in fear that their children will shop in Cincinnati, not for Christmas gifts, but for drugs," she said.
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