Federal drug czar John Walters drove through some of Houston’s roughest streets last night night and watched firsthand how authorities fight the drug problem. The Houston Chronicle says that his prime-time tour of Houston drug markets is part of a new White House initiative to examine anti-drug efforts in the nation’s top 25 cities.
“This is an area that has been hit very hard by crack cocaine,” Walters said. “Other areas have seen their crack cocaine rates decline. But there is an intensity of the problem here in Houston that we want to look at.”
Riding in an unmarked convoy, Walters and members of the Houston Police Department’s anti-gang squad inspected the Trinity Gardens neighborhood, a top drug-sales location. Today, Walters will meet with civic and law enforcement leaders to discuss area drug prevention and treatment programs as well as anti-drug patrols.
Houston is the 13th city in the tour. Walters planned to share intelligence and innovations from other cities visited that could work here. Walters praised Miami for having an “established, organized coalition” of police and community leaders to stop drug sales and develop rehabilitation programs.
Experts say Houston can use the feedback. It has all the drug elements as other big cities, plus problems because of its proximity to Mexican and Colombian cartels that traffic through Mexico. Police say drug sales here have turned some simple street gangs into covert, organized money makers.
Houston hopes to convince Walters to raise the already substantial federal funding to the city’s anti-drug programs. The Houston area got $47 million for state and local anti-drug programs in 2002. Most of the $12.5 billion the government spent on anti-drug efforts goes to state and local prevention programs.
Houston spends about $10 million for the High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area Initiative — a program aimed at bringing together federal, state and local agencies to focus on drug cartels and important local dealers. Stan Furce, a former Drug Enforcement Administration agent who heads the Houston HIDTA office, said the group targets Mexican cartel cells responsible for funneling a high percentage of the illegal drugs reaching Houston.