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Archive for Sunday, March 18, 1990

S ON THE FRONT LINES OF WAR ON DRUGS

March 18, 1990

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The tip: A police officer on a stake-out at Los Angeles International Airport alerts Lawrence detectives on Sept. 7, 1988. A man, acting suspiciously nervous and tense, has sent a package wrapped in duct tape to an address in Lawrence, Kan.

The investigation: After learning from the L.A. officer that a drug-sniffing dog has alerted officers that the package contains an illegal substance, detectives assigned to the Lawrence-Douglas County Drug Enforcement Unit contact the Federal Express office in Lenexa and arrange to intercept the package.

When the package arrives, local officers armed with a search warrant open the box and find a rock of cocaine.

The operation: Police investigator Mack Pryor dons a Federal Express uniform, takes the package and drives a Federal Express truck to an apartment building at 837 Mich. Pryor makes contact with John Daly, who indicates the package is his. Pryor gets back into the van and drives a short distance away.

The arrest: Pryor returns to the apartment along with several other officers. He knocks, and Daly answers.

"I am not a Federal Express agent," a court document quotes Pryor as saying. "I am a police officer, and you are under arrest."

The arrest brought a conviction. Daly was sentenced in June 1989 to four to 10 years in prison on a felony count of possessing cocaine. He appealed the conviction to the Kansas Court of Appeals, alleging that authorities violated his rights against illegal search and seizure. The court is expected to make a decision on the case within two to four weeks.

The Daly arrest is one of the skirmishes that are part of the nation's war on drugs. In Douglas County, officers may take down a marijuana-growing operation in a farm field one week and make an undercover buy at a hotel parking lot the next week, all the while conducting surveillance on suspected drug houses in quiet residential neighborhoods.

Bob Van Hoesen, a member of the Lawrence-Douglas County Drug Enforcement Unit, has been through a number of these operations.

And he says there's always more work to do. At times especially early summer, when investigators concentrate on finding and destroying marijuana fields there's more than enough work for the detectives.

To help ease the workload, law enforcement administrators assigned a Kansas University police officer early last year to the drug unit. An additional sheriff's officer was added recently.

Also, the drug squad now features a special prosecutor, Douglas County Assistant Dist. Atty. Rick Trapp, who is handling the majority of drug-related matters as well as providing day-to-day legal advice.

THE EARLY DAYS

The drug unit today bears little resemblance to the squad that began operations in July of 1982.

Van Hoesen, along with Lawrence police officers Carrol Crossfield and Kevin Harmon, were in at the beginning, starting out with very little intelligence information and less than $500 in "buy" money cash to use in making undercover drug purchases.

Although they had few resources, Rex Johnson, former Douglas County sheriff, and Dick Stanwix, former Lawrence police chief, thought the squad was needed as a response to local residents' concerns about drugs.

"We had a lot of people who came in with concerns about the problem," Johnson said. "They'd see a lot of traffic coming in and out of the house next door, things like that."

Before the drug unit was formed, Van Hoesen said, there was little continuity in drug investigations. Information that could have led to more arrests was stored away and forgotten.

Stanwix said he and Johnson thought they could improve drug investigations by providing a central unit to pool information.

"We knew there was an increase in drugs, but the street officers didn't have time to follow up on the leads we got," Stanwix said.

At first, the drug officers targeted street-level transactions, concentrating mainly on activity in taverns.

Other law enforcement agencies helped during investigations, supplying money to buy drugs and providing manpower.

Scott Teeselink, a Kansas Bureau of Investigation special agent, said the KBI was involved in several early drug unit cases. The working relationship was advantageous for the drug unit because the KBI supplied much-needed buy money and undercover agents. And because local detectives already had done most of the legwork needed to make the arrest, the KBI was able to make a bust without having to conduct a lengthy investigation.

After the detectives spent their first year establishing sources and focusing on street-level transactions, the scope of the investigations began to widen.

At that time, Van Hoesen said, officers learned "drugs weren't only in the lower branches" of society.

For an investigation to be classified as a success today, a substantial amount of drugs must be seized. The drug unit's budget is bigger, and more confidential sources have been established. Authorities, however, won't divulge the unit's budget.

DRUG INVESTIGATIONS

Unlike most other police investigations, which begin after a crime is committed, drug cases start with tips. Van Hoesen said tips have come from many sources alert citizens, other drug enforcement units, police and sheriff's officers and informants.

After getting a tip, the drug squad moves into "proactive" investigation. That may mean conducting surveillance of a house or tapping a telephone.

They try to get to know the target's associates and the places the target frequents.

If officers determine the target is involved with drugs, their next consideration is how to infiltrate the supply chain. Infiltration can be done through local undercover officers, confidential informants, or narcotics officers from other departments.

Lawrence Police Chief Ron Olin said there's little telling where a drug investigation will lead once it starts.

"It can take one day to one year," he said. "It can involve one officer or a couple dozen."

In order to infiltrate a drug supply chain, officers may tailor their appearances.

On a drug operation, officers would not wear a standard uniform unless they were investigating police officers. It would be more likely to see a drug squad officer in running shoes, jeans and a T-shirt than a uniform or a coat and tie.

Despite their casual appearance, however, drug officers operate under the same rules and regulations as other officers, and their investigations are supervised by higher-ranking officials.

Not all investigations go as quickly as the one involving Daly, as in the case of a residence in a southeastern Lawrence neighborhood that officials believe may be a drug house.

Although officers have been investigating complaints about the residence for about a year, they have been unable to gather enough evidence to make an arrest.

They received the tip from a couple who live next door to the suspected drug house. In an interview with the Journal-World, the husband and wife said they became suspicious of the house about a year ago. The couple, fearing repercussions if they spoke out against their neighbors, asked that their names and their address be withheld.

"There are cars coming and going all the time," said the husband. "They're there for five, 10 minutes at a time. Sometimes, one person stays in the car while another one goes in."

The couple said they have never actually seen drugs coming from the residence, but strongly suspect drugs are there because of the traffic.

"If I can tell what's going on and my neighbors know what's going on, the police department ought to be able to tell what's going on," the husband said, adding that he is moving to get away from his neighbors.

Tony Garcia, a police officer assigned to the drug unit, said he has staked out the house and has seen the same things that the couple has reported. But because investigators have no inside connection with the house someone to help an undercover officer get into the house or a confidential informant who has a bond of trust with the residents investigators have been unable to infiltrate the house and see whether they can make a buy.

Therefore, they have no hard evidence that drugs are being dealt there. Without evidence, they can't get a search warrant. And without a search warrant, they're limited in their ability to make an arrest.

DRUG UNIT'S RECORD

Despite the frustrations that go with drug investigations, Olin and Anderson said local drug enforcement work has paid off.

Anderson said the quality of drug investigations has improved since the 1970s and now results in more felony arrests that yield larger quantities of drugs. A sampling of court statistics backs him up.

From 1986 through 1989, 124 cases involving felony drug charges were filed in Douglas County District Court. To compare that with court cases approximately 10 years earlier, 50 such cases were filed from 1977 through 1980.

And besides taking drugs off the streets, Anderson said, arrests and convictions act as a deterrent.

"We've been fortunate here to arrest some substantial cocaine suppliers," Anderson said. "And word gets around. Now, somebody may be able to make a drop in Lawrence, but the message is, `You'd better get your act together for doing it the second time because we'll be right behind you.'"

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