By Ed Runyan
Statistics from the Warren Police Department’s new Street Crimes Unit during its first month in operation shows an emphasis on combating drug crimes.
For example, the unit’s six officers working varying shifts and addressing “trouble spots” for crime filed charges nine times for heroin possession in July, 11 times for drug-syringe possession, seven for marijuana-pipe or crack-pipe possession and three times for cocaine trafficking.
In all, the unit filed drug-related charges 39 times in July, which is about 39 percent more than the whole department filed in July 2011.
July was the first month for the Street Crimes Unit, and it was not in full operation until partway through July.
On the day he was sworn in as chief in June, Eric Merkel announced he’d be giving additional attention to crimes associated with drugs, guns and nuisances such as abandoned cars.
Last week, Merkel summed up the findings of the Street Crimes unit this way: “Heroin’s bad. Eleven syringes is an indication of how much heroin is out there.”
The unit also investigated two methamphetamine labs.
Merkel admits he doesn’t know whether making more drug-related arrests will curb the area’s crime and addiction problems.
“We bring them to the attention of the courts,” Merkel said. “We enforce the law. The whole system has to work together,” he said.
The problem with guns was punctuated Aug. 2 when 18-year-old McKayla Hopkins of Warren was shot to death during a birthday party at Perkins Park.
Lakeisha Bell, 19, of Warren, the woman who was having the birthday, was charged with involuntary manslaughter and carrying a concealed weapon in the case, which Council President Bob Dean says is an indication of Warren’s having an abundance of young people possessing guns.
“We just got an AK-47 [assault rifle] a few days ago,” Merkel said. “He was driving around with it between his legs.”
The unit recovered five guns in July and filed charges three times for carrying a concealed weapon and twice for being a felon in possession of a firearm.
The element of surprise has helped the unit make several arrests that uniformed officers might not have made, Merkel said.
“They rolled up on people dealing drugs and injecting heroin in their arm,” he said.
The Street Crimes Unit makes a lot of traffic stops, Merkel said, because many serious crimes can be uncovered that way.
The unit filed charges 23 times for driving under suspension, six times for having no operator’s license, eight times for stop-sign violations and five times for no seat belt.
The unit has filed charges 28 times for arrest warrants, 19 times against people owing court fines and costs, 13 times for loud music in a motor vehicle and 11 times for having an open container of alcohol.
It also assisted the Trumbull Ashabula Group Law Enforcement Task Force when it served a narcotics search warrant.
The unit issued 20 parking citations, because the department has received numerous complaints about vehicles left in the street overnight, which can make it difficult for the city’s garbage trucks to do their job, Merkel said.
Street-crimes officers assist uniformed officers when necessary, but they have a different mission.
“There has to be some proactive steps being taken,” Merkel said. “We’ve been reactive for too long.”