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©1999 - 2005
Edward D. Reuss
All rights reserved. Including the right of reproduction in whole or part in any form

 

"THEY LOOK LIKE THE LEPERS IN THE BIBLE"

Spring, 1983
Assignment: Lieutenant Operations Officer, 9th Precinct
Operator: Police Officer Alice Johnson, 9th Precinct

patchlgPolice Officer Alice Johnson was a rookie back in l983 but was accepted by the veterans of the 9th Precinct.  She was a pleasant person besides being attractive. She was small in stature, but had plenty of grit. She reminded me of a young Debbie Reynolds.  She was assigned to the 9th Precinct after graduation from the Academy and her initial training with the NSU unit.  There weren't many women police officers working in the 9th Precinct in l983. She was assigned to a high-crime precinct with a history of violent street crime, and she had quickly won the respect of the cops.  PO Johnson has since married and now is Detective 2nd Grade Alice Winkler, 122nd Squad.   

 Alice sat behind the wheel of the radio car and sipped her coffee.  Avenue B and East 11th Street was deserted at that early hour.  As we sat and drank coffee, we saw the guy come out of the tenement building on the corner and approach us. To remain seated inside the patrol car during a stop or at a time like this was a poor tactic.  It was especially dangerous in high-crime precincts.  He jumped back as I pushed the car door open. He had his hands inside his pockets, not a good thing to do in this neighborhood.

 In the 9th Precinct, most cops carried a backup gun. Some carried .380 Walter PPK automatics. The majority favored the small .38 caliber Smith & Wesson Chief. It was a five-shot revolver with a two-inch barrel. The S&W was authorized for use off-duty weapon and as a backup gun while on-duty. A common tactic in the 9th was to shift the holstered service revolver to the front of the groin area to distract a suspect and for protection from a disabling kick. At the same time, the gun hand could grip the off-duty revolver inside the pocket while an unknowing suspect was being questioned. It gave the cop a much-needed edge in street confrontations such as this one.

 The complainant just didn't fit in the neighborhood. His neat appearance stood out against the background of dilapidated buildings and scarred storefronts. He spoke quickly with little trace of a New York accent.  His eyes were clear with no signs of drug abuse. He told us that someone had pointed a shotgun at him on the second floor of the building across the street.  He said that he was trying to locate an acquaintance and had knocked on the door of the apartment when a male opened the door and pointed the "weapon" at him.

We called a "signal 10-85" and requested Emergency Service to respond. When they arrived,  the Emergency cops suited up with heavy vests and armed themselves with shotguns. The information provided by the complainant provided us with reasonable cause to force entry into the apartment.

We climbed the stairs to the second floor and watched as the Emergency cops forced the door and we then swarmed into the apartment behind them. After a quick sweep of the interior of the apartment, we were confronted with a sight that left us with a sense of deep sorrow and pity. The entire apartment was devoid of any type of furniture. The place was filled with drug addicts lying on the floor in twisted positions. They wore ragged clothes and they reeked of foul body odor. Their shirts hung limply from their thin, sickly looking frames. They peered at us out of their sunken eyes. Most of them had large ulcerated track marks on their arms and other parts of their bodies. Body fluid oozed from the holes in their wounds. Their bodies were in such a deteriorated state that images of the lepers described in the Bible came to mind.  Modern medicine fortunately has treatment for that ancient and dreaded disease. Yet, these wretched addicts were as abandoned as those shunned victims of leprosy had been in ancient history.  

The cops located the alleged shotgun that turned out to be a piece of pipe. Apparently, the addicts had used it to scare nosey people from the location. We had invaded a "shooting gallery". I had dealt with many heroin addicts, but this group was in the worst physical condition than any that I had ever come across.

9thprcWe gathered up the evidence in the apartment and charged all of them with Loitering for the Use of Drugs. It was a misdemeanor charge, but it enabled us to take them into custody. The drug paraphernalia such as needles, caps, and the like was invoiced as evidence to substantiate the charges. To leave those "junkies" to their fate would have been an act of cruelty. Officer Johnson took the arrests, but the condition of the prisoners would require special transport to the precinct. I called for the patrolwagon to respond to the apartment and we led the column of addicts down the stairs to the street.

The bleeding sores of the addicts alarmed the cops who were assigned as escorts. Handling such addicts always presented the risk of contacting the AIDS virus or Hepatitis B. Even with protective gloves, if the prisoners resisted arrest or fought with the escorting officers, infected blood could contaminate the officers. These prisoners were an extreme example of the ravages of heroin addiction. The AIDS epidemic had just begun to come to the awareness of the general population. Cops and those in the medical profession were aware of the horrors of that disease. The 9th Precinct was one of the worst areas for risk of exposure to the AIDS virus and other life-threatening diseases. 

Patrol cops like Officer Alice Johnson took those risks on a daily basis.  Every time a prisoner was frisked for weapons or searched after arrest, the arresting officer ran the risk of infection by the mere pricking of a finger with a used hypodermic needle.  Blood from victims of crime or vehicular accidents also presented a worry to cops on patrol.  Police officers on patrol in a precinct have the most difficult of all police roles.
It has been said that patrol duty at times is characterized by hours of boredom punctuated by moments of sheer terror.  I don't know who to credit with that statement, but I think that many who have been in policing would readily agree with it. 

Heroin use declined a few years after this incident occurred.  Cocaine and later the more potent form that was called "crack" cocaine became the drug of choice. The effects of the two drugs were very different. Heroin is a depressant, while cocaine is a strong stimulant. But back in l983, "Horse" was still very much the drug of choice. We have since seen the ravages of "crack", but seem to have come full circle with the return of heroin.

 Now there is a new generation of heroin users. They share the needles and sets of "works" that go into the preparation of the drug for intravenous use. A visit to a shooting gallery will often reveal the "works" of addicts. The burnt bottle cap or the blackened spoon that was bent to facilitate the heating of the liquefied powder. An eyedropper that was used to add the water and filtered through the cotton balls and the matches that was used to sterilize the "fix" in the spoon. Finally, the needles and hypodermic syringes for injection into the veins. Such are the telltale signs of the drug addict. The sharing of these "works" has been a major cause of the spread of AIDS.

 The neophyte heroin users initially thrill to the pleasure that early use of the drug brings to their bodies.  As their systems become more tolerant of the drug, it requires more and more dosage to maintain the pleasures that they seek. Merely snorting heroin does not suffice. They soon begin to experience the ultimate highs of intravenous injection of the drug directly into their bloodstream. They learn the art of "making gravy". With continued use, the veins in their arms begin to harden and become atrophied into "tracks" - those telltale darkened lines of ruined veins. They are forced to wear long-sleeved shirts in the heat of the summer to hide the marks. As the tolerance builds higher, they get little or no pleasure and need the drug to escape the effects of withdrawal. They feel the "monkey on their back" as the hallucinations caused by the drug terrorize their consciousness. Once they are "hooked", they will do anything to maintain their habit.

 Addicts often are introduced to the world of degradation in the sex business for the enrichment of those who had enslaved them with the drug. In the past, the  criminal justice system has unwittingly assisted in their destruction by calling prostitution a "victimless crime".  The pimps who prey on these unfortunate drug users are ensured of their lucrative careers by a system that prevents these victims from seeking the protection of the police. The crimes that addicts commit usually are crimes of opportunity such as car boosting, petty thievery, and even burglary. Statistically, these are classified as crimes against property.  With more and more heroin use, those types of crimes increase proportionately. Crimes against the person involve a confrontation between the victim and the criminal. Robbery and assault are examples. These types of crime are not usually the mark of the heroin addict. Heroin makes cowards of them all. When in need of a fix, addicts are in physical distress. They will evade most physical confrontations. By the same token, when they have had their dose of the drug, they are docile and non-violent as they fall into the dreamworld of heroin. As they nod in the stupor of the drug, they contrast sharply with the cocaine user.  This is a fact worth remembering when a question of drug use and crime is discussed.

The "crack cocaine" epidemic that hit the streets in the decade of the '80s created a wild-west atmosphere in the drug trade. The proliferation of guns in the hands of small time dealers led to the great increase of homicides and killings of innocent bystanders. Drive-by shootings were commonplace in drug-saturated areas of the City. The violence associated with the use of crack was a frightening trend. By l991, the homicides in New York City exceeded 2,000.  Doing business in the street drug trade had grown to be unmanageable. Did the international drug cartels decide to quiet things down?  Was it coincidental that the poppy has been replacing the cocoa leaf as a cash crop on the hillsides of South America?  Heroin has replaced crack cocaine as the drug of choice by many drug users. Perhaps the availability of heroin has effected the crime rate more than we realize.

But that's a story for another day.

©Copyright  l999 Edward D. Reuss

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