DEA ARRESTS, SEIZURES RISE IN 1998 AS NATIONAL CRIME RATE DROPS
Thomas A. Constantine, Administrator of the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) stated today that DEA's 1998 arrest and seizure totals "were at an all-time high. The use of an elite team that targeted violent drug gangs throughout the United States has had a major impact on violence in hundreds of communities. These mobile enforcement teams (METS) along with state and local task forces were a major reason for the increased arrest figures."
"Over the past several years, many cities, especially New York, have demonstrated that aggressive law enforcement can and does work to reduce violent crime levels and to restore communities that have been ravaged by drug trafficking and criminal activity," said Constantine. "The dramatic drops in New York's homicide rate over the past five years coincides with an increase in the number of police in New York City and increased prison capacity. The New York Police Department consistently enforced laws against criminal activity at all levels, and focused special attention on eliminating narcotics trafficking."
The links between violent crime and drug trafficking have been established in numerous studies, including the 1997 Arrestee Drug Abuse Monitoring Program (ADAM) published by the National Institute of Justice. This report indicated that 67 % of males arrested on various offenses used drugs at the time they were arrested. Historically, statistics also indicate that homicide rates increased dramatically across the nation during the crack cocaine epidemic in the late 1980's which peaked in 1992. During this time period, violent crime rates increased by over 50% and murders increased by 31%.
DEA's Mobile Enforcement Team (MET) deployments and subsequent investigations into the activities of violent drug trafficking organizations have had a significant impact on the rates of violent crime in numerous communities across the United States. This program was established in 1995 in an effort to provide much-needed assistance to state and local law enforcement in communities ravaged by violent crime and drug trafficking. Since its inception, DEA has provided assistance in over one hundred cities and towns, and has arrested over 8,000 individuals.
DEA conducted a study to determine whether MET teams had an impact on reducing the violent crime rate in communities where the teams were deployed. The results have been impressive: 113 less homicides occurred after the deployments, 3276 fewer robberies occurred and a reduction by 2,419 in assaults was reported in locations where MET deployments have occurred.
Constantine added that "these interventions in communities, carried out at the invitation of state and local law enforcement officials have made a meaningful contribution to improving the quality of life for thousands of Americans who had suffered at the hands of violent drug trafficking organizations for too long." In 1998, MET deployments resulted in the arrests of numerous violent drug traffickers who were responsible for a significant percentage of the criminal activity that plagued the following communities for several years:
Benton Harbor, Michigan: Despite the fact that the violent crime rate in Michigan dropped in 1997, Benton Harbor, a city in the Southwest part of the state, still had significant crime problems. Benton Harbor, with a population of 13,500, was the most violent city in Michigan with a crime rate of 16.5 per 100 residents. A murder spree left 10 people dead in a twelve-day period. Individuals living in Benton Harbor described it as "Dodge City" where kids were afraid to play in the streets and elderly people couldn't walk their dogs. Residents routinely heard gunshots night after night. But after the intervention of law enforcement officers from state, local and federal agencies Benton Harbor was being brought back to life. Beginning early in 1997, the Michigan State Police sent troopers into Benton Harbor to patrol the streets, train local law enforcement officers and enhance their ability to protect the community. They brought a sense of stability to the area which had become a haven for violent fugitives.
During the period between June and September, 1998, DEA sent its Mobile Enforcement Team (MET) into the community at the invitation of the law enforcement officials there. DEA's team pursued a violent drug trafficking organization directed by Yusef Phillips whose organization was responsible for distributing multi-kilo quantities of cocaine and crack in inner city housing projects in Benton Harbor. Eventually, 42 individuals were arrested and a quantity of drugs including crack and heroin and $31,000 was seized. After the MET team's investigation was completed, Public Safety Director Milton Agay estimated that the Yusef Phillips group was responsible for 90% of the violent crime that had blighted Benton Harbor.
Long term effects of this deployment have not yet been assessed
Opa-Locka, Florida: On January 22, 1998, the DEA Miami Field Division MET team concluded a deployment to Opa-Locka, Florida where the primary target was multiple offender Rickey Brownlee, the head of a violent drug trafficking organization allegedly responsible for several drug related murders and the distribution of significant amounts of cocaine and heroin within Opa-Locka.
During the MET assessment, both police and community civic leaders described Brownlee's organization as extremely violent and known for its daily intimidation of the Opa-Locka citizenry. Through murders, shootings, aggravated assaults and extortion, Brownlee held the Opa-Locka community hostage. The deployment culminated with arrests of Brownlee and key members of his criminal organization.
In a letter to the Attorney General of the United States, the Mayor of Opa-Locka thanked DEA for its dedication and expertise in dismantling one of South Florida's most notorious criminal enterprises. To further show their appreciation, the Mayor and the City Commission proclaimed March 19, 1998 as "Drug Enforcement Administration/Mobile Enforcement Team Day."
Pueblo, Colorado: In recent years, the Pueblo Police Department recorded a dramatic increase in drug trafficking and drug-related violence attributed to a local cocaine trafficking organization headed by Martin Acosta-Hernandez. The organization, made up of several brothers, controlled cocaine trafficking in the Pueblo area with violence and intimidation as their signature. The organization had acquired sizeable drug profits and had operated freely, without concern for local law enforcement. The members of the Acosta-Hernandez organization were also allegedly responsible for the murder of a local drug dealer.
At the invitation of local authorities, the Denver Field Division MET was deployed to Pueblo, Colorado on August 10, 1998. With the assistance of over 100 officers from various state, local and federal agencies, the MET operation culminated on November 2, 1998, with the 55 arrests, including all key members of the Acosta-Hernandez organization, bringing the total arrested during the deployment to 76. Assets seized included 41 vehicles, over $150,000 in U.S. currency, and real property valued in excess of $300,000.
Long term effects of this deployment have not yet been assessed
Constantine said that "none of these organizations could be in business without the support and assistance of the international drug trafficking syndicates who supply them with their product, and whose profits are tainted with the misery of countless victims of drug trafficking."
DEA's overall arrest totals have increased steadily since 1994, and the 1998 totals represent an increase of 11% over the previous year, nearly doubling since 1995. The majority of these arrests, 45.4% (16,714) were for cocaine violations, and another 20.7% (7,608) were arrests for methamphetamine violations. The remaining percentages were for marijuana, heroin and dangerous drug violations.
Methamphetamine arrests have steadily increased from 2,857 in 1995 (representing 11.5% of DEA's arrests) to today's totals of 20.7%. In the past several years, methamphetamine production and trafficking have spread eastward, fueled by several aggressive methamphetamine trafficking organizations headquartered in Mexico.
DEA seizures also increased in 1998. Methamphetamine seizures increased from 1503.6 kilograms in 1997 to 2568.5. Cocaine seizures rose from 58,262.8 kilograms in 1997 to 70,440.9 in 1998. DEA seized 624.6 kilograms of heroin in 1998, compared to 446.3 the previous year. Marijuana seizures were 359,843.9 kilograms in 1997 and rose to 364,081.1. These totals include seizures that DEA made unilaterally, and in conjunction with state and local law enforcement partners.
"Many of the strategies employed by DEA to reduce violent drug trafficking in communities have strong similarities to the tried-and-true enforcement programs initiated by cities such as New York, where violent crime rates have dropped dramatically, and where homicides are at the lowest levels since the 1960's," said Constantine. "Experience in the major cities has shown that arresting individuals who are responsible for drug trafficking and drug-related violence can and does have a positive result on overall crime rates. DEA understands the need to work with state and local partners across the country to replicate successful approaches to crime and drug trafficking problems that plague far too many communities," he concluded.