Crack cocaine buyers most likely to be arrested Outdoor, near-home sales make customers more visible to police, study says


When it comes to getting busted by the police, crack cocaine is the riskiest drug, because crack smokers tend to buy it outdoors, in their own neighborhoods and from a variety of dealers, making them more conspicuous. But powder cocaine can be bought more discreetly, often indoors from a single dealer who caters to regular customers.

Such insights into the drug trade highlight the federal government's first study to compare illicit heroin and cocaine markets in six U.S. cities from the consumer's perspective. The study, based on interviews with 2,056 arrested adults who tested positive for drugs, was released Friday by the National Institute of Justice, a research arm of the Department of Justice.

The interviews, in Chicago, Portland, Ore., San Antonio, San Diego, Washington and New York City's Manhattan, also underscore regional differences in patterns of drug use.

In Manhattan, where the Police Department has targeted quality-of-life misdemeanors as well as drug peddling, nearly two-thirds of crack cocaine users and more than half of heroin users reported that police activity stopped them from buying drugs at least once in the year before their arrest.

But in Chicago, 16.7 percent of crack users and 18.8 percent of heroin users said the police had frustrated such a transaction. Only 2.9 percent of crack users and 16.7 percent of heroin users in Washington reported the same failure.

Jeremy Travis, director of the Institute of Justice, described the latest study as important because, he said, "it helps us understand empirically rather than anecdotally the drug markets in our cities."

In the United States, Travis said, "there is no single drug problem; there are many local drug problems."

He noted, for example, that San Diego had been hit hard by methamphetamine, a stimulant that hardly exists in New York or Washington, where heroin and crack remain most popular.

Barry R. McCaffrey, director of the White House's Office of National Drug Control Policy, which financed the study, said, "This report hands a new tool to drug treatment providers and police officers, two of the professions which have to deal with drug abuse on a daily front-line basis."

The six metropolitan areas were selected to study local drug markets because they show the highest rate of heroin use, and substantial levels of cocaine use, among 27 metropolitan areas in the Arrestee Drug Abuse Monitoring program run by the Institute of Justice. The program tracks drug use trends by testing arrested criminal offenders.

Travis said the program would be expanded in the next few years to include 75 urban areas and some suburbs and rural areas.

K. Jack Riley, the director of the monitoring program and the author of the study, said, "One of the most interesting findings is that the arrested drug population will sit down and talk to you about these things."

He was surprised, he said, that few respondents were worried about being tested for drugs.

The arrested offenders answered questions about their drug-buying habits after being promised confidentiality and bTC assured that their admissions would not be used against them.

In Manhattan, 22.5 percent of crack users interviewed said they lived in public housing before their arrests, as against 7.4 percent in Washington and 5.6 percent in Chicago. Only 8.5 percent of Manhattan crack users reported living in a shelter, compared with 11.5 percent in Washington.

And 35.5 percent of crack users interviewed in Manhattan identified their main source of income as welfare and Social Security checks, as against 17.1 percent in Chicago and 18 percent in Washington.

More than half of the crack users arrested in Chicago and Washington said they had full- or part-time jobs, compared with 26.7 percent in Manhattan.

Twenty percent of the women who consumed both heroin and powder cocaine said they earned the bulk of their income from prostitution, twice the proportion of all the other female drug users.

The survey suggested that one reason that more blacks than whites get arrested for drugs is that they buy it outdoors in their own neighborhoods.

"Whites and Hispanics, on the other hand, are more likely to travel away from their neighborhoods to make their purchases and are more likely to make them indoors," it said. "As a result, drug transactions conducted by blacks may be more visible to law enforcement."

Pub Date: 3/08/98

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