05/02/2006

Mass. cop says raids not enough to win drug war

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By JONATHAN GRAHAM

GARDNER, Mass. — Police forces throughout the region are fighting a "war of attrition" against drug crime that cannot be won through drug raids alone, said Det. Lt. Gerald Poirier, commander of the North Worcester County Drug Task Force.

This feeling comes despite the regional group's seizure of more than $60,000 in cash, 500 pounds of marijuana and nearly eight kilograms of cocaine in 2005, Poirier said.

"Why would you sandbag your front doorstep when the problem is many, many miles away?" said Poirier, a 33-year veteran of the Gardner Police Department. "We're doing a good job of keeping a lot of the drug problem underground, but unless we have some sort of flood-control project upstream, it will be an endless battle."

Poirier said despite the successes of the regional drug-fighting task force, which has operated for the last six years, police forces are trying to climb a slippery slope.

Task force units seized $65,000 in cash, 11 cars, 32 guns, 800 grams of heroin, seven kilograms of cocaine, 477 grams of crack cocaine, one kilogram of crystal methamphetamine, 140 OxyContin pills and 543 pounds of marijuana in 2005, according to Poirier.

The task force also served about 100 warrants throughout the region, Poirier said.

It is made up of about 12 officers, six of them from the Fitchburg Police Department.

Task force members have the authority to deal with drug crimes in any town or city belonging to the force, and can expand the group's ranks when necessary, Poirier said.

But Poirier argued that all the task force's efforts will never be enough to seriously make a dent in the drug trade.

"We put one pusher in jail and another just comes along to take his place," Poirier said. "Enforcement alone is not enough."

Poirier said much of the blame for continuing drug problems rests with certain sectors of the business community.

He said pawn shops, national banks and national retail chains are all ignoring petty crimes, allowing minor thefts to continue and pay for drug purchases.

Poirier declined to provide the names of specific businesses, or identify specific municipalities where the stolen merchandise is taken.

Drug addicts steal CDs, food, video game systems and anything else and sell it to local businesses who know it's stolen merchandise, Poirier said.

"They're cashing in on the drug trade by buying stolen merchandise from drug-addicted people, they're going out and continuing the drug problem," he said.

Fitchburg Police Chief Edward Cronin agreed with Poirier's assessment that stolen merchandise feeds into drug crime.

"There are people out there that will buy property that they pretty much know is hot, and they will buy it anyway," Cronin said. "That's how the drug trade is financed."

Cronin said the way to prevent the problem is for police agencies to continue working within the drug task force's framework.

Cronin said police will be able to do more once a new inter-agency computer system is set up for task force members later this year.

"That's going to give us the ability to look at stolen property," Cronin said. "It will help track where the thefts are occurring."

The task force operates in Clinton, Fitchburg, Gardner, Hubbardston, Leominster, Lunenburg and Westminster. Ashburnham is joining the group later this year, Poirier said. 

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