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National Drug Intelligence Center
District of Columbia Drug Threat Assessment
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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