The police chief said he will use street patrols more aggressively to enforce a no-tolerance policy.
YOUNGSTOWN -- If you don't walk away from the city's drug culture, you're left with two options: a violent death or prison.
"Strangers don't kill strangers," Police Chief Robert E. Bush Jr. said, reflecting on last year's homicides. "The majority were drug-related. I know I'll hear from the victims' families for saying that, but it's true."
He said if you're not involved with drugs -- or hanging out with someone who is -- there's nothing to fear. "We don't find bodies in the streets, people coming home from work, killed for no reason."
In 2004, the city recorded 22 homicides -- 16 black, six white. The youngest was a 16-year-old boy, the oldest a 63-year-old woman. A coroner's ruling is pending in the December death of an East Side woman.
Until 2003, the city's homicide rate hadn't dipped below 20 for more than a decade. That year, 19 were killed.
Between 1991 and 2002, the city recorded 564 homicides, an average of 47 per year.
Bush said the fast-paced and lucrative drug culture leaves young men, mostly black, with only three options: "You walk away, you go to prison or you die."
The cycle of violence typically involves retaliation.
"That dope dealer who gets ripped off, now he's out to retaliate. It sends a message," the chief said. "The drug trade -- it's commerce, a market-driven economy."
The 2004 New Year brought with it the still-unsolved triple homicide that happened inside a house on New York Avenue. Danyale Oliver, 30, one of the three victims discovered Jan. 15, left two daughters.
The girls' 22-year-old mother, Shaquanda Crump of Lora Avenue, said Saturday that she doesn't believe Oliver's slaying involved drugs.
"I know they keep saying drug-related -- I don't believe that," Crump said, adding that Oliver was a good father who had been making plans for his youngest daughter's birthday. "He was killed a day before De'Janae's first birthday -- she'll be 2 Jan. 16."
The older girl, Dalaysha, will be 6 in May.
"Dalaysha says she wants to know who did it so she can ask why they killed her daddy," Crump said. "She misses him, she wishes he was here. She wanted him around for her first day at kindergarten."
Crump said she's heard nothing about the status of the homicide investigation and neither has Oliver's mother.
The chief, meanwhile, shook his head at the idea that the city's economic climate, a lack of jobs, plays any part in attracting young men to the drug culture. He paused as he thought back over the years before explaining.
"I don't ever recall anyone saying, in jail or in court, that they got into the drug trade because they couldn't find a job," Bush said. "It's a conscious decision and they know the outcome. They see their friends killed, but they think it won't happen to them."
Last year, the South Side had 10 homicides; the East Side, five; and the North Side, seven. December was the deadliest month, with five men shot to death, all on the South Side.
This year, the chief wants his officers, especially on the South Side, to "keep pounding the streets," aggressively enforcing a zero-tolerance policy and looking for convicted felons violating their parole. "If you're a convicted felon working at Walgreen's, there's no reason for you to have a .45," he said.
The chief used the arrest a few days ago of 26-year-old Terry Ramses on the South Side as an example of "pounding the streets." Ramses, of Market Street, climbed a chain-link fence topped with barbed wire to avoid arrest on a traffic violation. He was found hiding in a garage on Mary Street.
The chief called Ramses a likely candidate for a homicide.
Ramses was arrested on charges of carrying a concealed weapon, illegal possession of a weapon based on a prior conviction, aggravated trafficking in crack cocaine, possession of dangerous drugs, driving under suspension (failure to pay child support), failure to signal a turn and no seat belt. The pursuit began after police pulled Ramses over on West Indianola Avenue when he failed to signal a turn. He ran after getting out of the car, reports show.
In 2005, Bush intends to again call upon a "great resource" -- the Ohio Adult Parole Authority -- to remove convicted felons, such as Ramses, from society. Felons cannot possess a gun, be around any illegal activity, and some have curfews.
The drug trade, Bush said, is supported by working-class men and women, many from the suburbs.
"There's no discrimination, black and white, from all over the Valley," the chief said of drug users. "We know by the cars they drive and the way they're dressed."
He said undercover cops who videotape drug activity see it all -- women in nurses' uniforms, store clerks in smocks, construction workers and men and women in business suits.
As an example, Bush mentioned the recent arrest of Robert F. Premec, 41, of 8354 N. Lima Road, Poland, on drug trafficking charges. Premec is accused of buying heroin and OxyContin, mostly in Youngstown, and distributing them in the Poland area.
"The chances of [Premec] being a homicide victim were great," Bush said. "That's the drug culture."
Caught up in it
The October 2004 shooting death of a 43-year-old Girard man at the Brier Hill Annex on Dupont Street is another example of out-of-towners caught up in the violence of the drug trade. The victim was at the subsidized housing complex to buy drugs, his brother told police.
There's little police can do to prevent homicides because of the secretive nature of drug dealing, the chief said. Police, though, will work vigorously to not allow lawlessness to prevail, he said.
Finally, Bush said he's concerned about Mahoning County's finances, specifically the failure of the half-cent sales tax in November and proposed cuts in corrections officers at the jail. The release of inmates will undoubtedly result in a crime increase, he said.
"Those who will be released will break into houses, steal cars, rip off drug dealers and maybe shoot somebody," he warned.