Some say store raids miss point

Is court-time cost worth the effort?

Posted: April 09, 2009

The Daily News' "Tainted Justice" series has prompted community leaders to question the wisdom of using an elite drug-enforcement unit to bust small stores for selling drug paraphernalia.

City Council Member Maria Quinones-Sanchez said the city should develop a fairer, more productive and less costly method of enforcement.

"We have to do better outreach, so when it happens, people are not caught off guard," she said. "If they don't comply, then there's enforcement."

Some store owners and community leaders say enforcement should be handled by inspectors from the Department of License and Inspections who could educate store owners, write citations and levy fines.

In an interview last month, Kevin Daly, chief of L&I's Nuisance Task Force, said this wouldn't work because merchants make lots of money off the bags.

"I don't think it would have any impact at all because there is money to be made," he said.

Jerry Rocks, a detective in the District Attorney's Office who founded a neighborhood group to fight the sale of drug paraphernalia, also takes a hard line on zip-lock bags.

"What are you selling the bags for?" Rocks asked. "That's like selling bullets and saying, 'We're not selling the guns; we're only selling the bullets.' "

A local crime expert, however, argues that to arrest mom-and-pop-store owners doesn't put even a dent in the drug epidemic.

"The store is closed for six months or so, but on that corner, or one, two blocks away, drugs are sold and guys are armed," said Patrick Carr, a Rutgers University sociology professor. "They say quality of life - whose quality of life are we talking about?

"With the store closed, who will sell diapers, milk and bread?"

"The end result is not worth the pursuit of this," Carr added. "To bog down the court system that is already overwhelmed with this, is foolish." *

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