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California Northern and Eastern Districts Drug Threat Assessment
After methamphetamine and heroin, cocaine is the next most serious drug threat in Northern California. Cocaine use, of both powdered and crack forms, is steady in the region. In San Joaquin County, crack is as serious a problem as methamphetamine.
According to CADDS, the number of people seeking treatment for cocaine/crack abuse in the counties of Northern California rose between FY1998 and FY1999, from 11,132 to 12,275. Nearly 60 percent of those admitted were male.
Cocaine use in San Francisco is relatively steady. "Speedballs" (heroin and cocaine sold together for combination use) are widely available and inexpensive. San Francisco County Medical Examiner data for FY1998 showed 101 deaths ascribed to cocaine, used alone or in combination. This was up from 83 in FY1997 but below the peak of 111 in FY1996.
San Francisco DAWN data showed a slight decrease in cocaine ED mentions between late 1995 and early 1997, but reported little change until a steep drop in early 1999. Newmeyer reports that in San Francisco County, 2,865 persons listed cocaine as their primary drug of abuse during FY1998. This number has changed little since FY1995, but is 13 percent below the FY1993 peak.
Haight-Ashbury Free Clinic data indicate that cocaine treatment admissions between FY1993 and FY1998 in the five-county Bay Area increased gradually in number from 6,271 to 7,974. This was, however, only a slight change in the percentage of total admissions--from 23.4 to 23.6.
According to 1999 ADAM data, 15 percent of male and 30 percent of female arrestees in Sacramento tested positive for cocaine. The percentages in San Jose were lower, at 13 and 19 percent respectively. In 1998, San Jose and Sacramento reported the two lowest figures--8 and 18 percent respectively--of male adult arrestees testing positive for cocaine of the 35 ADAM sites. The median was 34 percent.
San Jose is home to a large number of Vietnamese immigrants. In contrast to other groups in California, Vietnamese users never turned to methamphetamine as a drug of abuse, believing that cocaine is purer and its use more prestigious. Methamphetamine has a bad connotation for these users.
Cocaine seizures for California declined from a high of over 16,000 kilograms in 1995 to a relatively stable level, ranging between 6,000 and 8,000 kilograms from 1997 to 1999 (see Chart 5).
Chart 5. Cocaine Seizures, California, 1995-1999
The DEA District and Resident Offices report that cocaine is abundant and of high purity. The DEA Bakersfield Resident Office, however, reports that cocaine use in its area appears to be limited. Crack cocaine is available in Bakersfield but is not as popular as it once was. The San Francisco Field Division of DEA reports that supplies of powdered and crack cocaine increased throughout the Bay Area in 1999, with prices ranging from $14,000 to $22,000 per kilogram at 60 to 90 percent purity (see Table 3).
Table 3. Cocaine Price and Purity
Violence associated with the distribution of crack cocaine poses the primary cocaine-related threat to the Northern California HIDTA counties.1 Local gangs control the street-level distribution of crack in East Palo Alto, San Francisco, Richmond, Oakland, and Hayward. Although gangs wage turf wars and street dealers are armed, arrests of crack cocaine dealers have reduced the violence associated with street-level sales.
East Palo Alto is a prime example of an area hit hard by the violence associated with crack cocaine. In 1991, East Palo Alto was dubbed the "murder capital of the country" because it had the highest per capita murder rate in the nation. The murders were a direct result of crack cocaine street dealing. After a one-year joint investigation involving local, state, and federal agencies, 100 crack dealers were arrested and sent to prison. The number of homicides decreased from 45 in 1991 to 5 in 1992. Experienced narcotics investigators who interview drug dealers report that California's "Three Strikes" law is also deterring dealers.
The Jackson Street Boys, a Chinese gang well known to San Francisco authorities, is involved in street-level sales of cocaine. The gang rose to prominence in the mid-1990s and has extended its influence from the Bay Area to Los Angeles and British Columbia. Members of the Jackson Street Boys have been involved in extortion, home invasion robbery, kidnapping, assaults on police officers, murder, and murder for hire.
One of the most violent African-American street gangs in Northern California, the Project Trojans (PJT), is estimated at 300 members and associates, many of whom will not hesitate to kill. Some members of PJT are involved in a war with the Crescent Park Villains over turf and cocaine. PJT members are commonly armed with high-powered handguns and assault pistols and have been known to wear body armor. They commit violent assaults, shootings, and homicides; victims are often shot more than a dozen times. In August 1999, a PJT member shot and killed a rival gang member at a hip-hop concert in Vallejo.
The Romper Room Gang, an African-American gang in Vallejo, came to prominence in the early 1990s when it committed a series of pizza parlor takeover robberies. The gang branched out to at least 10 other counties and diversified its criminal activities. Authorities linked the gang to narcotics sales, vehicle theft, and drive-by shootings. Romper Room Gang members were identified or arrested for 8 different credit union robberies and suspected in 27 more. The dollar loss from the 35 robberies was $1.4 million. After a yearlong effort by the Vallejo Violence Suppression Task Force, the Romper Room Gang was dismantled in 1998.
Available law enforcement data indicate that there is no coca cultivated or cocaine produced in Northern California. However, many retail distributors convert powdered cocaine to crack.
Colombian DTOs smuggle cocaine to Mexico by land, sea, and air on a variety of conveyances. Mexican DTOs receive large, wholesale shipments of cocaine from Colombian DTOs, then transport the drugs to California. They use the interstate system to transport cocaine from the border area to Northern California then throughout the western states, much the same as for heroin and methamphetamine. Los Angeles is the major hub. Sacramento, Stockton, and Modesto are all Central Valley destinations and transshipment points for cocaine transported from the Los Angeles area.
Interstate 5 accounted for almost 90 percent of the 1999 highway seizures in Northern California: 345 of 389 kilograms. Most stops were in the counties surrounding Sacramento. All shipments seized reportedly originated in California. Destinations included California, Oregon, Washington, and British Columbia. One stop on Interstate 5 in Stanislaus County near Modesto resulted in the seizure of 305 kilograms of cocaine.
Cocaine is also seized from air and railway passengers. Operation Jetway Task Force officers seized 1 kilogram of crack cocaine from a rail passenger traveling from Sacramento to Portland. The crack cocaine was found during a consensual search of the passenger's luggage.
African-American gangs from the Bay Area travel to cities in the Central Valley to purchase powdered cocaine, which they transport back to the Bay Area to distribute. Once there, the gangs convert the cocaine to crack.
Mexican DTOs receive the cocaine from the Colombians and move it to stash sites near the border with the United States. Mexican DTOs move the cocaine across the border using commercial and noncommercial means such as tractor-trailers, railcars, private vehicles, and pedestrian traffic. For their services, the Mexican DTOs charge the Colombians up to half the shipment. The Mexican DTOs then use their established distribution infrastructure to supply the cocaine to their wholesale customers.
Mexican and a few Colombian DTOs control wholesale distribution in Northern California. Asian organized crime groups have also become more involved in cocaine trafficking in the San Francisco Bay Area. Vietnamese groups reportedly transport cocaine and other drugs to Oregon from the Bay Area.
Wholesale crack traffickers purchase cocaine in kilogram or multikilogram allotments from traditional cocaine sources, including Colombian and Mexican organizations. They package the cocaine into ounce quantities or convert it into crack and then divide it into ounces for sale at the next level. Wholesalers usually are large groups responsible for most of the interstate transportation of crack and cocaine intended for crack conversion.
Retail distributors convert powdered cocaine into crack, usually in their own kitchens, using a safe and simple method of converting cocaine into cocaine base. Although it produces a product higher in purity than coca paste, the crack conversion process does not eliminate all of the impurities in the cocaine. Adulterants such as lidocaine, procaine, and benzocaine survive the crack conversion process and are inhaled by the user. Federal mandatory minimum sentences are higher for crack than for powdered cocaine, but crack cocaine provides a much higher profit margin for the dealer.
Countless individuals sell crack at the retail level, usually in inner cities. Once arrested, they are replaced almost immediately. Although they are present in virtually every ethnic community and economic group, most crack users live in low-income, urban, African-American and Hispanic neighborhoods.
Street gangs play an important role in cocaine distribution in Northern California. Law enforcement agencies responding to the NDIC National Gang Survey-2000 report that many significant Hispanic and African-American street gangs have ties to and receive wholesale quantities of cocaine from street gangs in Southern California.
African-American gangs and trafficking groups--many of which are affiliated with violent gangs such as the Crips, the Bloods, and the Black Guerrilla Family--are prime distributors of crack in Northern California. African-American gangs distribute roughly 80 percent of the crack within the African-American community and the remainder to drive-up customers on street corners. According to the Sacramento Police Department, the Del Paso Heights Bloods distribute cocaine locally and to other western states.
The California Department of Justice estimates that there could be as many as 100,000 African-American gang members in California, the majority belonging to Crips and Bloods gangs. Each gang has between 10 and 1,000 members from 15 to 38 years old. When in prison, many African-American gang members affiliate with prison gangs such as the Black Guerrilla Family, the Consolidated Crips Organization, the 415 (the area code for San Francisco), or the Bloodline. They usually affiliate with these gangs for protection from other inmates or for control of certain criminal activities in the prison.
In Oakland, the majority of the dosage-unit sales of cocaine are in crack form. About 75 percent of the crack is sold on the street, the remainder from stash houses or other residences. A significant portion of the powdered cocaine is sold to users who combine the cocaine with heroin to form "speedballs." In Richmond, dosage units of powdered cocaine and crack are sold on the street and from houses and apartments. In the North Bay area and Santa Rosa, powdered cocaine is the predominant form of the drug. Recent trends indicate that Hispanic distribution groups sell it from stash houses. Dealers work the stash houses in 12- to 24-hour shifts, then change locations to evade law enforcement scrutiny.
In the Sacramento area, African-American gangs such as the Oak Park Bloods and 29th Street Crips convert powdered cocaine into crack and sell it primarily out of houses or cars. The 29th Street Crips produce inexpensive yet high-quality crack. The gang is currently attempting to become the dominant crack distributor in the Sacramento area. African-American distributors dominate the retail crack trade in Fresno. In some areas, particularly West Fresno, dealers are territorial and will resort to violence to protect their turf. In many low-income areas, however, loosely organized neighborhood groups sell crack in a limited geographic area.
Very little cocaine in either form is sold in San Jose. Occasionally, African-American retail distributors travel to San Jose from elsewhere in the Bay Area or Southern California to sell small amounts of crack or powdered cocaine. In San Mateo County, gangs are usually not involved in street sales of cocaine. Instead, independent African-American entrepreneurs sell crack or heroin on street corners.
In Modesto, African-American gang members sell unpackaged crack hand to hand on street corners. Crack retails for $20-$40 for a 1/4 gram rock. Powdered cocaine is sold in tied-off plastic food bags or in bindles.
Asian gangs are involved in powdered and crack cocaine distribution in the San Francisco area. The crack is packaged in plastic food bags, while cocaine is sold in envelopes and occasionally glass tubes. Asian groups distribute person to person, often to people they know or who were referred to them. According to the San Francisco Police Department, the Coung Luong gang distributes cocaine at the street level in that city. Crack is the predominant form of cocaine sold in San Francisco public housing. Both powdered cocaine and crack are sold on the streets of San Francisco.
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