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In its 2010 annual report, the Atlanta High Intensity Drug Trafficking program, a regional law enforcement effort to dismantle high-level trafficking organizations, says that on the retail end, street gangs continued to contribute to significant cocaine and marijuana sales, particularly in Southeast Atlanta. But, even since that report was released, street gangs like 30 Deep — like the much larger, much more organized, and much more criminally prolific Black Mafia Family before them — have largely been arrested into oblivion. The first three months of 2011 were calamitous for 30 Deep, a gang that was actually known less for its drug activity than the burglaries and murders its members committed, including the 2009 shooting of Standard bartender John Henderson. In March, purported member Jonathan Redding received a life sentence plus 70 years for the Standard shooting. That same month, U.S. Marshals executed Operation Zero Deep, serving warrants to around 40 people suspected to be connected to the gang. And a month earlier, Redding's cousin — and 30 Deep ringleader — George "Keon" Redding received two life sentences in prison.
Another factor that's changed the nature of crack and cocaine sales in recent years is the almost wholesale demolition of Atlanta's housing projects, which basically operated as open-air flea markets for drug dealers, minus the tarps and tables. Lt. O'Connor says that in the post-public-housing era, drug sales have become hyper-localized and open-air sales have declined. "The drug market moved inside," O'Connor says. "We don't have a RED DOG anymore, but they did have an impact. That [unit] and beat officers, over time, pushed those people inside. Now the neighborhood drug dealer will sell from his home or his apartment."
That would appear to hold true — except when it comes to crack. ADAM data collectors also asked inmates where they'd made their last drug purchase. Sixty-eight percent of the inmates who reported last purchasing crack said they still did so in an outdoor area, the highest outdoor sales percentage of any drug. Powder cocaine, like the rest of the narcotics, was most often purchased inside someone's house or apartment. That Atlanta's drug dealings now exist largely behind closed doors would seem to present new challenges for narcotics investigators. But, Lt. O'Connor won't discuss enforcement tactics in any detail for risk of his unit losing its "operational edge" on criminals.
"Do you watch TV?" O'Connor asks. "Well, rent 'Traffic' or something. They probably got it right."
Judge Doris L. Downs, who oversees Fulton County's drug court program, spends her days trying to give lower-level offenders the chance to get treatment rather than just rotting behind bars. "I think that drug use plays an extremely high part in our arrest records, across the board," Downs says.
"And if you want to reduce the chance crime will happen again, reduce the recidivism rate for any one person, the way you do that is treatment," she adds. "Incarceration may be a necessary evil, but treatment is a must, whether you're incarcerated or not. It should be a requirement of the sentencing for anything drug-related."
But where Atlantans excel in the doing of drugs, they falter in the getting of help. According to ADAM's report, only 8 percent of inmates in Atlanta said they'd ever utilized outpatient drug treatment — the lowest percent of all the sites. Only 12 percent ever utilized inpatient treatment, also the lowest percentage. And those figures represented a sharp drop since even the previous year. Jack Killorin, director of Atlanta's HIDTA, says he's encouraged by a trend he's noticed, one that could eventually negatively effect demand for cocaine: The price is going up, and the quality is simultaneously going down. "The drugs are approaching a level of crap and the price is going up," says Killorin. "That's a great victory, other than what we'd like them to do, which is seek treatment."
Unfortunately, rather than seeking help, many addicts just seek a new drug. Killorin says his agency is already observing a move into other substances.
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