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Citizens for Limited Taxation

Police say cuts limit drug fight
Successful narcotics unit could suffer, officials fear
Benjamin Gedan, Globe Correspondent Thursday, March 20, 2003
FRAMINGHAM -- In the early hours of March 10, 18 Framingham police officers raided a suburban home, arresting six alleged drug dealers, seizing 60 grams of crack cocaine, and confiscating an unlicensed semiautomatic handgun.

The police action was the latest in a string of successful antidrug efforts, including the breakup last month of an alleged heroin and cocaine ring and the arrest of 18 members.

As law enforcement personnel celebrate recent victories in their war on drugs, however, Framingham police officials are voicing concern that potential budget cuts next year could undermine the narcotics unit, which already operates with one of four detective positions unfilled.

"It's very resource-intensive to investigate drugs," said Framingham Police Chief Steven B. Carl.  "I have a concern that my specialty units are going to suffer."

Town officials, bracing for a deep reduction in state aid, are preparing to shave up to $1 million from next year's payroll expenses.  So far, they have said they will avoid cuts to police and fire, but if aid reductions exceed 15 percent, a downsizing of the Police Department's $9 million budget could be unavoidable.  "It's a very major concern," said John Zucchi, chairman of the town's Finance Committee. "We're concerned with public safety, especially in these difficult and insecure times."

Budget reductions have already forced the permanent elimination of several vacant police posts.  With an additional officer serving military duty, the Framingham Police Department has 5 percent fewer personnel than it had in 2000 despite an 8 percent increase in service calls.

Five other Framingham officers are in either the Army Reserve or National Guard and could be called to duty in the coming weeks. Further staffing cuts, police officials warn, could force the transfer of two detectives, one from the narcotics unit, to ensure 24-hour 911 coverage.

Police insist they have no plans to eliminate the antidrug unit, housed in a detective's bureau operating at its lowest staffing level in five years.  But if resources are further strained, officials said, drug investigations could markedly decrease, despite the growing presence in Framingham of cocaine and so-called club drugs such as ecstasy.

Narcotics investigators, who also assist in bank robbery and rape cases, made 163 drug-related arrests last year, up from 112 in 2001.

"There's a dramatic need for this type of unit," said Lieutenant Lou Griffith, a police spokesman.  "These all take time and manpower. It's not like TV where they solve everything in an hour."

Police officials said budget reductions would be particularly damaging to the antidrug campaign because it involves intensive intelligence gathering, undercover activity, and the use of costly surveillance equipment.  Obtaining search warrants and collecting audio and video evidence is similarly time-consuming, said Anthony Pettigrew, spokesman for the federal Drug Enforcement Administration's New England division, which participated in the February raid.

Framingham's most recent drug operation consumed over 100 police hours, and cost the department $3,000 in overtime pay -- figures that will balloon as officers meet with the district attorney and testify at trial.

The March 10 raid resulted in the arrests of 18-year-old Marlborough resident Paul Purvis and Framingham residents Carl Esperance, 22; Michael Scott, 39; Damario A. Cintron, 28; Michele Boykin, 43; and Lakesha Middleton, 21.  All six were charged with three counts of drug dealing; Esperance also faces prosecution for allegedly possessing an illegal firearm.

They were all arraigned in Framingham District Court on March 10, and will next appear in court in April, said Seth Horwitz, a spokesman for Middlesex District Attorney Martha Coakley.

"These things add up.  It's expensive," Pettigrew said. "If [Framingham] is going to realign their manpower, that will have an impact."

Carl, who said the recent arrests justify the expenditure, has pledged to continue pursuing drug dealers in the face of departmental belt-tightening.  But with the police called upon to defend against terrorism and provide details for possible antiwar protests, high-profile drug busts may become less frequent, Carl said.

"The town is not going to become the Wild West," he said.  "We're not going to stop doing narcotics, it'll just take longer."

That prospect has town officials worried.

"A lot of the services we need to reduce are not immediately apparent to the residents," said Town Manager George P. King Jr., who warned of the "long-term impact" of increased local drug use.  "It's not going to be simple, but I have faith that [the police] will continue to do a good job."

I was amused by reading today's article in the Boston Globe West section on how cuts will affect our local "war on drugs".  If I understand this story correctly, in this drug bust, eighteen (count them, 18) police officers arrested six alleged drug dealers with 60 grams (or two ounces) of crack cocaine, and confiscated one gun.

This cost the tax payers 100 hours of police work, $3,000 in overtime.  It required intensive intelligence gathering, undercover activity, and the use of expensive surveillance equipment.  Obtaining search warrants and collecting audio and video evidence is similarly expensive.  These costs will balloon with upcoming legal proceedings.

I was wondering whether the evidence included 27 8x10 glossy color photographs with circles and arrows, and a paragraph on the back of each one.  Did the investigation involve drug smelling dogs, plaster tire tracks, and was there any aerial or satellite photography involved to get pictures of the southwest corner, the northwest corner and the possible getaway routes?

The bottom line issue is:

How much money should the taxpayer pay to rid Framingham of one ounce of cocaine, or one unregistered gun? $5,000, $10,000, $20,000 ?

Where do we draw a line on diminishing returns?

Considering that this was considered a high profile drug bust, for two ounces of crack cocaine, it was a huge waste to the tax payer.  Between this and detail work, the police have plenty of spare cycles on their hands.

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