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District of Columbia Drug Threat Assessment
January 2002


District of Columbia

Map of the District of Columbia.

Note: This map displays features mentioned in the report.


The District of Columbia (D.C.) is an ethnically, culturally, and economically diverse 68-square-mile federal district with over 572,000 residents. If D.C. were a state, it would rank fiftieth by population, ahead of only Wyoming. Washington, D.C.'s role as the nation's capital and as a focal point for the world's political, diplomatic, and financial activities enhances the District's diversity. Attracting inhabitants from throughout the country and the world, D.C. provides an ideal setting for criminal groups to blend in easily.

Fast Facts
District of Columbia
Population (2000) 572,000
U.S. population ranking 50th (Relative to states)
Median household income (2000) $40,000
Unemployment rate (2001) 6.6%
Land area 68 square miles
Principal industries Government, service, tourism

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The District has a large population of drug abusers and a high level of violence associated with the distribution of illegal drugs. According to the National Drug Intelligence Center (NDIC) National Drug Threat Survey 2001, the U.S. Park Police reported that 35 percent of its 1,583 D.C. investigations were drug-related. Many were for polydrug distribution and involved the use of firearms. The threat posed by drug distribution and abuse to the safety and security of District residents is illustrated by the District's high homicide rate. Although the number of homicides in D.C. has decreased from an annual high of almost 500 a decade ago to 232 in 2000, shooting incidents remain frequent, and many District residents live in fear of becoming victims of random violence.

The District has a wide array of transportation options available for both licit and illicit activities, making D.C. an important node in the drug transportation network along the eastern seaboard of the United States. Transporters use an extensive highway system, three major airports near the District (Washington Dulles and Baltimore-Washington International Airports and Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport), and the railroads to ensure that drugs transported to and from the area have an excellent chance of reaching their intended destination. Thousands of travelers from all over the world pass through the three airports daily. Arrest and seizure data indicate that the three airports are being used to smuggle drugs from source and transit countries to the District. Interstates 295 and 395 provide direct access to I-495, which encircles the District, and to I-95, the major north-south route on the East Coast. U.S. Highways 1, 29, and 50 also provide access to I-495 and I-95. Drugs are frequently transported in private vehicles and, to a lesser extent, by rail and bus services to and from the District. Many transporters reportedly purchase false identification with which they register private vehicles used to transport drugs.

Maritime smuggling directly into D.C. is unlikely since the few commercial maritime shipments into the area originate in domestic locations. The small port of Alexandria, Virginia, is the only commercial maritime cargo facility in the D.C. metropolitan area. An average of 23 vessels visit the port annually, and longshoremen at the port handled approximately 26,000 tons of cargo in 1999. The only international seaport near D.C. is the Port of Baltimore, a port through which thousands of tons of containerized and bulk cargo move daily; however, seizures of drugs are infrequent. Transporters are more likely to smuggle drugs to ports that handle a large volume of international cargo daily and provide more transportation options, such as the consolidated New York/New Jersey seaport.

D.C. is a secondary drug distribution center, with most drugs destined for distribution in D.C. first smuggled to New York, Philadelphia, Miami, and Los Angeles, among other cities. Drug trafficking organizations (DTOs) and criminal groups that work directly with DTOs in source countries such as Colombia supply D.C.-based distribution groups. The distribution groups range from wholesale-level criminal groups to local neighborhood-based crews (a term frequently used to describe gangs in D.C.) and independent dealers. Most investigations reveal that wholesale-level distributors directly supply retail-level distributors.

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The District has approximately 60 open-air drug markets, some as large as two to three blocks, that are controlled by crews. Open-air markets are typically located near low-income housing projects and on main corridors into and out of the city. Most open-air markets operate 12 or more hours a day, 7 days a week. Crews sell primarily crack at open-air markets; however, powdered cocaine, heroin, marijuana, methamphetamine, and other dangerous drugs (ODDs) are also available. Law enforcement officials report that marijuana is available with increasing frequency at these markets. However, individual sales at open-air markets may involve no more than half a pound of marijuana because of legislation that became effective in D.C. in June 2001, making penalties for distribution and possession of marijuana much more severe than they had been previously.

Open-Air Drug Investigation in D.C.

On July 13, 2000, federal and local law enforcement officials arrested 37 individuals and seized $30,000 worth of crack, $70,000 in cash, and 13 guns, including an assault rifle and an Uzi-style weapon. The arrests and seizures were the result of a yearlong investigation that focused on open-air drug markets in the 1st, 3rd, and 5th Police Districts.

Source: Office of National Drug Control Policy, Drug Policy Information Clearinghouse, Washington, D.C., August 2000.

Local neighborhood-based crews that are unaffiliated with nationally recognized gangs usually dominate retail drug distribution in the District. Law enforcement officials usually assign the names by which crews are known based on the streets and housing developments in which members of crews live and distribute drugs. According to the Metropolitan Police Department, crews form primarily for economic gain and change composition regularly. Many crews distribute crack, and they frequently distribute other drugs as well. They maintain control of their markets by preventing nationally recognized street gangs from entering the area, and they will fight and kill to defend their "turf." No single crew appears to control or dominate the distribution of drugs throughout the District. Some reports indicate that as many as 150 crews, each averaging 20 to 30 members, distribute drugs and engage in additional criminal activities. The NDIC National Gang Survey 2000 identified 42 crews that distribute cocaine in D.C., and most of these crews distribute heroin and marijuana as well. Forty-one of them are African American, and one, La Mara R, is Hispanic.

Crews Known to Distribute Drugs in D.C.

1-5 Mob 1-7 Crew 1st & O Crew 1st & Seaton Place Crew
1st & T Street Crew 3rd World 5th & O Street Crew 6th & S Street Crew
7th & I Street Crew 7th & O Street Crew 7th & S Street Crew 7th & Taylor Crew
12th & Hamlin Street Crew 13th Street Crew 14th & Clifton Street Crew 20th Street Crew
57th Street Mob 58th Street Mob 1512 Crew 6200 Crew
Alabama Avenue Crew Barry Farms Crew The Circle/Simple City Crew Congress Park Crew
E Street Crew Hobart Stars Hucks Crew La Mara R
Langston Crew Levis Street Crew Lincoln Heights Crew Mellon Mob
Michigan Park Crew Montana Avenue Crew Naylor Road Crew Park Morton Crew
Queen Street Crew Rock Creek Church Crew Rosedale Crew Stanton Terrace Crew
Todd Place Crew Woodland Boys  

Source: National Drug Intelligence Center, National Gang Survey 2000.

The percentage of drug-related federal sentences in D.C. in 1999 was slightly lower than the national average, as were the percentages by drug type--crack is the exception. Drug-related sentences represented over 33 percent of all federal sentences in the District in 1999, compared with the national average of 41 percent. Additionally, over 75 percent of all drug-related sentences were crack-related, much higher than the national average of 23 percent.

According to an official from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, approximately 60,000 drug abusers--over 10 percent of the District's population--reside in the District. D.C. had more drug treatment admissions in 1999 than it did during any other year from 1994 through 1998. The number of annual drug admissions to publicly funded facilities in D.C. increased approximately 510 percent from 1996 through 1999, according to Treatment Episode Data Set (TEDS) data. The District had 979 admissions in 1996, 2,885 in 1997, 3,618 in 1998, and 6,005 in 1999. Conversely, the number of drug-related deaths in the D.C. metropolitan area decreased from 281 episodes in 1998 to 239 in 1999 (15%), the second largest decrease among the 40 metropolitan areas reporting medical examiner (ME) data to the Drug Abuse Warning Network (DAWN). Minneapolis had the largest decrease (17%).

A significant percentage of the District's budget is used for drug treatment programs. The National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University reported that D.C. spent $777 per person in 1998 on substance abuse-related services, more than any state in the nation. The District government spent approximately 15 percent of its 1998 budget on substance abuse-related programs that focused on justice, education, health, child/family assistance, mental health/developmental disabilities, employment, and public safety issues. D.C. was fifth in the nation in the percentage spent, following New York, Massachusetts, Minnesota, and California.

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