Thursday, December 31, 2009

L.A. Gangs Seek Profit In Peace

The Wall Street Journal

LOS ANGELES -- After nearly two decades fighting gangs, Los Angeles County Sheriff's Detective Robert Lyons thought he had seen it all. Until he saw members of the Bloods and the Crips -- rival gangs that spent years in brutal conflict -- meeting amiably in a restaurant.

"They were talking. There was hugging and high-fiving. It was unbelievable," Mr. Lyons said. He has heard a refrain from gang members: Red (the Bloods) and blue (the Crips) make green (money).

Gangs that were once bloody rivals now are cooperating to wring profits from the sale of illegal drugs and weapons, law-enforcement officials and gang experts say. In some cases, gangs that investigators believed to be sworn enemies share neighborhoods and strike business deals. The collaboration even crosses racial lines, remarkable in a gang world where racial divisions are sharp and clashes are often racially motivated.

"You see African-Americans dealing with Hispanics on obtaining narcotics and weapons. We're seeing Hispanic gang members involved with the Eastern European criminal figures," said Robert W. Clark, acting special agent in charge of the criminal division of the Los Angeles field office of the Federal Bureau of Investigation. "Where they see opportunities to collaborate, they do."

Gang activity has been one of the most intractable crime problems facing Southern California for decades, terrorizing communities, claiming hundreds of lives a year in some periods and also breeding a nexus of criminal activity that has been exported to other communities. Los Angeles, along with Chicago, has long been considered one of the centers of gang activity in the U.S.

But gang-related violence is at a 30-year low in Los Angeles, according to experts. Gang-related homicides in Los Angeles totaled 128 in through October of this year, compared with 312 in all of 2002. All reported gang-related crimes, including rape, assault and robberies, totaled 4,899 through October, compared with 7,432 in 2002.

The sharp drop is undoubtedly a landmark success for law-enforcement officials and policy makers, who have used aggressive policing and rehabilitation programs to tackle the problem. But the reports of alliances between formerly warring gangs potentially offers a different explanation: Gangs are committing less violence because they are partnering on criminal activity, creating new challenges for law enforcement.

"Now, instead of having 200 guys that are arch-enemies with 200 other guys, you have 400 guys working together against law enforcement," said the sheriff's detective, Mr. Lyons.

There are still plenty of rivalries and violence. One Los Angeles-area Latino gang, Barrio Hawaiian Gardens, was charged this spring with hate crimes against African-Americans -- including targeted shootings.

Tracking the number of gang members is notoriously tricky, and membership is fluid. But a November report from the California Gang Node Advisory Committee, which attempts to track gang membership, put the number of gang members at 85,832 in Los Angeles County, up slightly from recent years.

And the number of gang members has been on the upswing nationally. There were about one million gang members in the U.S. in 2008, up from 800,000 in 2005, according to the National Gang Threat Assessment, compiled by the National Gang Intelligence Center and the National Drug Intelligence Center.

Some regions of the country -- like New England, with 640 gangs -- are seeing an increase in violence and substance abuse as gangs grow and fight for control of neighborhoods and the drug trade, the report said. But there is cohesion in other regions, like Washington and Oregon, where "alliances between gangs may result in the expansion of criminal networks and increased criminal activity in the Northwest Region," the report says.

In Los Angeles, federal and local law-enforcement agencies have launched massive investigations and raids against gangs. In 2009, law-enforcement officials arrested more than 650 gang members in Southern California, according to the FBI.

City officials also credit gang-prevention and rehabilitation programs for the drop in crime. Gang intervention workers -- often former gang members -- work alongside police to prevent retaliatory shootings. Homeboy Industries, a privately funded gang-rehabilitation program in Los Angeles, serves around 12,000 people a year who have left gangs, providing job training, counseling and laser tattoo removal. And the mayor's office has sponsored activities like basketball games and picnics among neighborhoods that are home to feuding gangs.

But intensifying pressure from police has also prompted gangs to work together, said Jorja Leap, a University of California, Los Angeles professor and gang expert. "They really are united against what they perceive to be a common enemy -- law enforcement," said Ms. Leap, who now advises Los Angeles County Sheriff Leroy Baca on gangs.

Ms. Leap said gangs form links to survive -- and to maximize profits. "The market is tougher and they're consolidating," she said.

Los Angeles Police Chief Charlie Beck said gangs are "treating their activities more like businesses than before. In business, you work with whoever you have to."

This collaboration can make tracking gang crime and dismantling gangs more complicated. Members of street gangs are showing up unexpectedly in health-care and credit-card fraud investigations, which have traditionally been run by Eastern European crime rings.

During a two-year investigation of the Athens Park Bloods, an African-American gang entrenched in south Los Angeles, investigators learned the members had formed a pact with a Hispanic gang called Barrio 13. Eventually, 22 people were charged -- 20 African-Americans and two Hispanics.

"They shared the same guns, the same narcotics, the same neighborhood," said Mr. Lyons, the sheriff's detective.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Cocaine Chic Linked To Rise In Young Addicts

London Times Online

The number of children being treated for cocaine addiction has nearly doubled in four years, NHS figures show, with the drug’s “glamorous” image being blamed for the rise.

Young adults are increasingly requiring treatment for addiction to cocaine, often after developing a habit in their teens or twenties.

Last year 745 under-18s in England sought help from the National Treatment Agency after abusing the Class A drug, up from 453 in 2005-06.

Among those reporting addictions last year was a small group of very young children, including at least 15 children who were under 12, the latest figures show. Fourteen children aged 12 to 14 and 169 children aged between 14 and 16 also needed help to stop using cocaine, although fewer teenagers were seeking treatment for crack and heroin dependencies.

Experts said that children who started to use Class A drugs so young were likely to be using them as a “coping mechanism” to hide other problems, copying parents or other family members who were already abusing the substances.

Overall, nearly 24,053 under 18s needed addiction treatment for misusing illegal drugs and alcohol last year, 150 more than the total three years ago.

The number of individuals treated for cannabis was 12,642 and alcohol 8,799, accounting for almost nine out of 10 of all young people receiving support last year.

Last year the agency treated 657 crack and heroin users who were under 18, down from 1,081 in 2005-06.

Three quarters of young people treated had psychosocial therapies such as counselling, but others required support for the breakdown of family relationships, poor school attendance or emotional and physical harms.

Harry Shapiro, director of communications at the charity Drugscope, said that a shift in use away from heroin and crack towards cocaine reflected a general trend among all age groups.

“If young people are in a particularly risky or dysfunctional environment, alcohol or cannabis abuse is going to be more likely, and that makes them more likely to try other drugs.

“Cannabis has gone down since 2002, the general trends might be flat or dipping, but there is a minority of young people trying drugs as a coping mechanism.

“If you are in an environment where the house is used as a dealing hub or there are users regularly coming round to score, or if they come into contact with Class A substances through family members who are using them, then clearly that is an issue.

“Although they are coming forward for treatment, it’s likely that their drug use is symptomatic of other problems that are going on at home or school.

“I don’t think it’s a question of children and teenagers hanging round street corners, buying off dealers, but that could be their future if they don’t get treatment.”

Figures published this month show that the number of people under 35 entering treatment for cocaine addiction has increased by 75 per cent among men and 60 per cent for women in the past four years. The average age to start using the drug was 21.

Norman Lamb, the Liberal Democrats’ health spokesman, said: “There is a real problem with young people receiving mixed messages because of the alleged glamour associated with drugs such as cocaine.

“We need to get the message across about the dangers of experimenting with a massively addictive drug such as cocaine.

“The Government has been obsessed with trying to look tough on drugs while slashing funding for information services and refusing to listen to scientific opinion. Ministers must do a lot more to make people aware of the serious damage that drug use can do to your long-term health.”

Rosanna O’Connor, director of delivery at the NTA, said that the latest figures indicated that the heroin “epidemic” had peaked.

She said: “Most young people receiving substance misuse interventions cannot be described as addicts in the same way as adults in cocaine addiction treatment programs.

“Addiction is normally the result of regular, consistent use of substances over time; most under-18s who have problems have not pursued drug-taking long enough to result in dependency.”

John Mallalieu, of the charity Turning Point, said that there was no conclusive answer as to why fewer young people were receiving crack or heroin addiction treatment, “but it seems they may now be more aware of the potential consequences of using these drugs than previous generations were”.

He added: “The fact that more young people are drinking tells us that similar cultural messages for alcohol are not sinking in. In 2008 heroin was responsible for around 900 deaths, whereas alcohol was attributed to nearly 8,500.

“Quite simply, greater resource is needed to ensure that England’s next generation of drinkers are taught of the dangers of alcohol, and change their behaviour before it is too late.”

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Adolescents More Prone To Substance Abuse

Hindustan Times

A study into why teens become addicted to smoking more easily than adults and why adolescents are more prone to substance abuse has been carried out.

In an evaluation for Faculty of 1000 Biology, Neil Grunberg described the study, as “fascinating” and suggested it “may have implications to help understand why adolescents are particularly prone to drug abuse”.

The study looked at dopamine levels in adolescent and adult rats after nicotine withdrawal. Nicotine increases the level of dopamine in the brain, a neurotransmitter that is responsible for feelings of pleasure and well being.

The authors found that the withdrawal signs (physical and neurochemical) seen in adolescent rats were fewer than those observed in adults.

The study provided previously unknown mechanisms as to why there are differences in nicotine withdrawal between adolescent and adult rats.

The key here, Grunberg stated, is “age alters [neurological] systems and interactions relevant to nicotine”.

The reason that adolescents are prone to drug abuse (in this case, nicotine) is that they have increased sensitivity to its rewarding effects and do not display the same negative withdrawal effects as adults do, due to an underdeveloped dopamine-producing system.

Grunberg said since rats are not subject to cultural influences, “rat studies of nicotine ... have provided valuable insights that have led to practical behavioural and pharmacological interventions”.

“These findings might also be relevant to other addictive drugs and possible substance abuse treatment programs,” he added.

The study has been published by Natividad et al. in Synapse journal.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Program Offers Addicts A Glint Of Hope

Baltimore Sun

When Heather Spiker graduated recently, there was no cap and gown, no pomp and circumstance. But for the first time in her adult life, Spiker said, there was hope.

Spiker, 37, was one of nine people to complete Howard County's drug and DUI court program during a ceremony in District Court. The program was set up in 2004 to give nonviolent repeat offenders a chance to rehabilitate themselves rather than go - or return - to jail.

"We see them when they're sick, down and out," said Bobbie Fine, a former defense attorney and prosecutor who has coordinated the program since its inception. "This program saves the state money [in terms of incarcerations] and it's given these people a life, self-worth."

According to Fine, Spiker is one of the program's biggest successes.

It has given the Baltimore native an opportunity "at life" after years of what she described as an addiction to alcohol and drugs - including heroin - that resulted in nearly two dozen arrests since 2000 and as many incarcerations of varying lengths in detention centers throughout the state.

Asked when she was in jail, Spiker said, "When wasn't I in jail?"

Through court order, Spiker said, she spent 15 months in drug treatment programs, first at the Shoemaker Center in Sykesville and later at The W House, a Hagerstown residential halfway house for women in the early stages of drug-addiction recovery.

She has reunited with her two sons, ages 18 and 14, whom she said she hadn't seen in five years because of her addiction.

The celebrations of Thanksgiving and Christmas this year have special meaning to Spiker, who spent many previous holidays either in jail or homeless.

"Holidays and having family around, and friends and a network and being on the way to recovery, that's a pretty special thing," she said. "You're really in touch with reality and spirituality and just with life. When you get all of that back, and you have time for love, it's a pretty special thing."

Though Spiker twice relapsed after starting the program after an arrest in Howard County in 2007 for possession of heroin, she said that the difference between this program and others she had been at came from the compassion she felt from District Court Judge Neil David Axel and the support she received from Fine and others involved.

"It wasn't just to lock me up and throw away the key," Spiker said. "I would get arrested and there was no help available, at least not through any kind of court. When I reached this program, it was like they had faith in me way before I had faith in myself. This is a hard program to go through, especially for an addict. Structure is what I needed."

The drug rehab programs are set up to take a year, but Fine acknowledge that many, including Spiker, take longer because of their continuing battle with drugs and alcohol.

"It's very difficult to say to somebody, 'From this day on, you'll never use [drugs or alcohol],' " Fine said. "You won't say they will [relapse], but there's a good chance they may. We don't throw them out the first or second time if they're doing everything else that we require of them."

As for Spiker, who was chosen as the heroin addiction treatment program participant to speak at the graduation ceremony, Fine said, "We knew how hard Heather was trying, and she proved us right. We had faith in her, we thought she could do it. She had been doing so well, when she did relapse. But she had the determination. We didn't want to give up on her."

Spiker said that her problems with addiction began shortly after graduating from high school in Woodstock, Va., where she had gone for her senior year after leaving Catonsville because her mother was having her own problems with an addiction that would eventually kill her.

"She died in my arms when she was 44," Spiker said.

Returning to Baltimore, Spiker got a job doing clerical work, but to earn extra money, began bartending on The Block. Spiker said that the bartending job led to her becoming an exotic dancer and later a prostitute. Her first arrest came when she tried to buy drugs while she was a prostitute.

"The last 10 years were pretty crazy," she said. "I lived on the streets in Baltimore. I worked Wilkens Avenue, Washington Boulevard, all those areas, for years. I lived in abandoned houses, in alleys in the summer, wherever I could. I was going in and out of jails and institutions."

Kerri Robinson, the lead addiction counselor at The W House, said that Spiker had "hit rock-bottom" when she arrived and was "ready to surrender, knowing that she was totally powerless to overcome her addiction by herself."

Since her graduation, Spiker has moved to Jersey City, N.J. She starts a new job in New York on Dec. 15.

She knows her battles aren't over, but she is confident that she will not relapse. Spiker knows what the alternative is. "There's no going back. If I go back, I will die," she said.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Heroin Addict Begs For Prison Detox Treatment

from the Border Telegraph

A PETTY criminal who claimed he got hooked on heroin after being sent to prison begged a Sheriff to send him back so he could rid himself of the drug.

At Selkirk Sheriff Court on Monday, Campbell Ledgerwood, 37, of Whitefield Crescent, Newtown St Boswells, admitted stealing a bottle of whisky - worth £20.49 - to fund his habit from Somerfield supermarket in Galashiels on August 31.

He claimed he only got hooked on the Class A drug after being sent to alcohol detox at Saughton Prison in Edinburgh to recover from his alcohol addiction while serving a custodial sentence for another offence earlier this year.

However, Sheriff Kevin Drummond, who claimed the public would be "comforted" to know drugs were "in abundance" at the high security jail, refused his request and instead fined him £200.

Passing sentence, he told Ledgerwood: "It's not for you to decide the appropriate disposal. There are facilities in the public domain to deal with drug addiction.

"The only appropriate disposal in this case is a financial penalty." And he added: "It would have been £300 but for your early guilty plea."

The court heard the convicted thief had previously sought help to get clean from The Borders Community Addictions Team (BECAT), a local health board initiative which offers a service to residents in the region who are having problems with substance misuse.

But, despite recovering from his alcohol addiction, he is still in need of Heroin addiction treatment.

Ledgerwood's solicitor Hannah Jones explained: "He stole the whisky to fund a heroin habit which he developed while serving a custodial sentence earlier this year and he's asked whether a custodial sentence would be considered today so he can detox inside.

"He's 37-years-old and has been in and out of custody most of his life.

"Since he came out of jail in April, he has made contact with BCAT and been in Huntlyburn (hospital) but the detox wasn't working for him and now he wants to go cold turkey."

Procurator fiscal Morag McClintock revealed the bottle of whisky was recovered by police. She said: "He (Ledgerwood) admitted he stole it to fund his drug habit. He told police that he wanted to be locked up so he could get off drugs."

However, despite walking free from court, Ledgerwood could still find himself back inside. Leaving the dock after being fined, he retorted: "I'm not paying it."

The Scottish Prison Service revealed more than 2000 drug finds were recorded in the country's jails in the 15 months up to March 2009. But it insisted it was working hard to cure the problem.

A spokesman for the Scottish Prison Service told the Border Telegraph: "Drugs are a problem in prison in the same way as they are a problem in society as a whole.

"However, SPS tackles the issue with vigour through the use of sniffer dogs, intelligence and the use of sophisticated technology to find or intercept drugs.

"New legislation which the government has proposed will tackle the use of mobile phones which are used in prison in drug trafficking. Mobile phone possession will become an offence and SPS will also take steps to block their use.

"But SPS also work hard with other agencies to tackle addictions while people are in prison and to support those prisoners keen to leave prison addiction-free."

The Scottish Government said it does not comment on individual cases and pointed out sentencing was a matter for the courts. However, a spokeswoman said it was investing record funding in alcohol treatment programs to help more people recover from drug misuse.

Local MSP Jeremy Purvis, a former member of the Scottish Parliament's Justice Committee, said: "Radical reforms are needed to reduce the availability of drugs in our jails where we expect security to be tighter."

Friday, October 30, 2009

Anchorage Tries To Deal With Alcohol, Drugs, Homelessness

NY Times

ANCHORAGE — A man was down, immobile at the edge of one of this city’s busiest intersections. No sirens sounded, no ambulance rushed to the scene. Dealing with the scourge that has consumed Alaska’s biggest city is often delegated to two men in a white van, the Community Service Patrol.

“We have about 50 to 100 regulars that we pick up on a daily basis,” said Josh Wilson, one of the patrol workers.

The man down was homeless and had passed out, drunk, like he often does. Mr. Wilson knew him by name. The Community Service Patrol would soon take him to the city sleep-off center, where by the next morning, if he was sober enough, he would be free to go.

Mr. Wilson said odds were good that he would once again drink and pass out, putting himself and possibly others at risk and demanding intervention from this city’s frayed social safety net.

“Worse,” Mr. Wilson said when asked how things had changed in his two years with the patrol. “Absolutely tenfold worse.”

The police and social service providers say Anchorage has as many as 400 people they call “chronic public inebriates,” with up to 25 percent of them regarded as the most difficult cases. This year, after the deaths of at least 13 homeless people since the spring, there has been a widespread sense that the city’s response has been inadequate and must change.
you simply have a complex issue for which the only solution is let’s lock up the people who are disturbing us. That’s not an effective solution, and in the end it won’t work.”

The new mayor, Dan Sullivan, a Republican, has created a staff position and a task force devoted to addressing homelessness. The police recently gained the authority to dismantle homeless encampments with just 12 hours’ notice. Citizen groups are patrolling parks where homeless camps have been the site of rapes and other violence. But in perhaps the biggest and most controversial break from how the city has handled the problem in the past, a Salvation Army drug detoxification and alcohol abuse treatment center has begun accepting chronic inebriates who have been taken there essentially by force.

With $1.2 million in new state financing pushed through by one of Alaska’s more liberal Democrats, State Senator Johnny Ellis of Anchorage, the facility, the Clitheroe Center, is accepting people committed under a state law, Title 47. Under the law, a judge can order people into secure treatment for 30 days, and potentially for months, if the police, a doctor or family members convince the judge that the person’s abuse of alcohol has made them a threat to themselves and others. The person does not need to have committed a crime.

“Ten years ago, there would have been a community outcry that Johnny Ellis is locking up people with the disease of addiction,” Mr. Ellis said. “ ‘How can he do that and say he’s still a progressive?’ ”

Now, Mr. Ellis said, the problem has increased so much “that for various motivations people are saying let’s try something new.” He added, “The people dropping dead during the summertime really got this community paying attention.”

One homeless person drowned. Another was hit by a car. One died from hypothermia. Most had been drinking, and several had four or even five times the blood-alcohol level above which a person is considered too drunk to drive. Experts say the problem of public drunkenness is part of a larger homeless problem that disproportionately affects Native Alaskans, particularly men who have moved in from rural parts of Alaska and lost their way in the city. The recession has also played a role.

Involuntary commitment of homeless alcoholics has been used elsewhere in the country. Some homeless advocates say it infringes on civil rights, and they question its effectiveness. Here in Anchorage, several longtime advocates said the severity of the situation had made them open to giving it a chance.

“If the access to services and treatment and supportive resources are there, perhaps this Title 47 will be a good thing for people,” said Michael Burke, an Episcopal priest who has worked with homeless alcoholics for two decades. “But if those latter pieces are not present, then you simply have a complex issue for which the only solution is let’s lock up the people who are disturbing us. That’s not an effective solution, and in the end it won’t work.”

Mr. Burke was among several people who said that cuts to longer-term treatment programs in the past had made detoxification efforts ineffective and could render the Clitheroe program irrelevant if they happen again. Mr. Ellis blamed “the Republican budget-cutting era” that took hold in the state capital, Juneau, in the 1990s. “We lost a lot of our treatment capacity,” he said.

He said the new program was deliberately small, paying for just 10 beds at the center.

Several homeless advocates say that new Republican interest in the issue, as well as the comfort level liberals have with Mr. Ellis, is helping to build a coalition of business owners who want to keep streets clean and safe and homeless advocates who are willing to experiment with more assertive tactics. Jeff Jessee, the chief executive of the Alaska Mental Health Trust Authority, which provides a wide variety of social services and financing for them, said that while Mayor Sullivan often says, “We can’t continue to allow these people to take over our public spaces,” he also says, “These chronic inebriates are also citizens, and we owe them better.”

Robert Heffle, the director of the Clitheroe Center, said that political motives were irrelevant to him, and that he was simply glad to get the resources to try something new.

“If we keep doing what we been doing,” Mr. Heffle said, “we’re going to keep getting what we’ve been getting.”