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Sunday, April 29, 2012

Cop school: Cracking down on drug dealers

Fairfax County Police investigate stores selling illegal prescription drugs [photo from WJLA news]
This article is part of the series documenting some of the presentations in the spring 2012 session of the Fairfax County Citizens Police Academy.

The drugs most often found in the Annandale area by police on the narcotics beat are marijuana, cocaine, and ecstasy. There isn’t more of a drug problem in Annandale than anywhere else; “it’s everywhere in Fairfax County,” detective Shawn Monaghan told participants in the Citizens Police Academy earlier this month.

The illegal drug trade is “huge” in the county, he says, noting at least $1.5 million is seized every year in drug arrests and related crimes, like prostitution. One bust not too long ago yielded $10 million.

Monaghan, who’s been in the Fairfax County police force for 23 years, focuses on long-term investigations involving drugs, gambling, and prostitution.

Mount Vernon had been the top spot for open-air drug markets, although there aren’t as many as there used to be, as most drug dealing has moved indoors. You’re more likely find the bigger deals where the most money is, like McLean and Centreville, Monaghan says. He did confirm that some of the “mom and pop” businesses in Annandale might well be used for laundering drug money, and that some of the massage parlors are likely fronts for prostitution.
The possibility of making some easy money is what’s driving people to drug dealing, as well as the need for money to support their addictions. “You can easily make thousands of dollars in five minutes of work,” he says. Drug dealing drugs is way more lucrative than robbery, he says.

Synthetic marijuana, sometimes called “spice,” is an increasing problem in Fairfax County, says Monaghan, who noted a grocery store has recently been busted for selling it. Another growing problem among youths is the misuse of prescription pills, often taken from adults’ medicine cabinets.

According to Monaghan the price of marijuana is way up from a generation ago. A pound of weed now goes for $5,000 a pound, compared to about $500 in the 1980s and is a lot more potent—and that is leading to more robberies and other violent crimes.

Monaghan opposes the legalization of marijuana because while “it’s true that not everyone who smokes pot becomes a heroin addict, every heroin addict started with marijuana.” There will always be a black market for the stuff, as there is in California where it is legal for medicinal purposes, he says, and drug dealing is often connected to violent crimes.

There aren’t that many meth labs in Fairfax County as there are in other parts of the country, and for that, Monaghan credits a state law that requires an ID to buy medications like Sudafed that are used in producing methamphetamine.

Most homicides in Fairfax County are either related to drugs or domestic situations, he says. When it comes to organized crime, he has seen some Mafia-related gambling going on in Fairfax County, but most of the drug trade is controlled by street gangs.

Monaghan and his colleagues often rely on informants in busting dealers. People become informants for three reasons, he says: They want to be paid, they have been or fear being arrested and want their charges reduced, or they are out for revenge.

“That crap about not snitching on TV shows is not true. Everybody tells on everybody,” he says. Often an ex-girlfriend calls the cops after a fight with a drug-dealing boyfriend. But then, if they make up, she might change her story.

He tells informants he can’t promise anything; it’s up to the prosecutors and judges if they want to cut a deal.

Working undercover with drug dealers can get a narc into a lot of nerve-wracking situations, like staying in character when you have a fake identity, coming up with excuses for not getting high when making a buy, and talking your way out of getting shot.

Most drugs confiscated by the police are destroyed, although a small amount is saved for training the canine corps and for helping narcs fit in while working undercover.

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