By Hillel Aron
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By Patrick Range McDonald
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By Dennis Romero
By Jill Stewart
By Dennis Romero
Chris breaks it off for me. “There are more random gangs from all over the Southland here in Central Division than I could believe when I first got here. I literally couldn’t believe it. You have rival gangs who could never ever look at each other without it escalating to some form of violence, and they’ll be selling dope right next to each other in Central. It’s a safe zone. It’s business. Hold on a second ...”
Rick and Chris spot a deal in progress down on the street and home in on the action while we chat. Their binoculars are not LAPD-issue. These guys spent a grand each out of pocket for the super-dope spyware.
“You’ll get a lot of buyers from all over Los Angeles in the downtown area because they know they’re gonna find dope,” Chris continues. “They don’t have to wait for someone to pull up. They know if they want crack cocaine to go to Fifth and Crocker, or Fifth and San Pedro, or Fifth and Main. If they want heroin, go to Broadway. We do so many arrests here in Central... we do 80 to 100 arrests [monthly] in our squad, the eight or 10 of us... so we do a thousand a year.”
Rick radios the details of the buy going down to the street units. “Going toward to market,” he says. “Male white, green over blue talking to male black in black pants, blue Adidas T-shirt on a red bike. Bindles out. Standby. I got him. I got an exchange. He’s got the bindle in his right hand. I think they’re arguing about the size of the rock.” Chris zooms in. “Rock’s going in the left hand,” he says. “Okay ... buyer’s completed the transaction ... is looking at the rock in his left hand.”
“I got eyes on the seller,” Rick assists.
A squad car rolls up on the buyer. Two cops hop out and handcuff him, a black man in his 40s. “Dealer’s in custody,” Rick relays the news from the radio.
You can just tell these super dope cops love their job. They want to be here doing this.
“Our mission’s to target the street-level drug dealer. We fully believe that narcotics is the root of all evil in downtown L.A.,” Rick says with the conviction of a man completely committed.
“It’s blatant enough out here on the street and they know that undercover and uniformed officers are watching,” Chris says.
He schools me on the current exchange rates on the crack market as applied to the pancake-size piece they took off the dealer they just busted. “That cookie you saw is probably a couple of ounces. They can cut that up into 50 to 75 rocks at five bucks apiece. They can double or triple their money for powder by cooking it up. Generally what you’ll find is our dealers will carry these plastic bindles of either eight rocks or 16 rocks. Wholesale, they’ll buy the eight rocks for 20 bucks and sell each rock for five dollars and double their money. What our resident user-slash-dealer will do is buy the wholesale pack of eight for 20 bucks. They’ll smoke four and sell four. They’ll have their 20 bucks and they’ll do that all day. It’s business. That’s all it is. And going to jail is not a deterrent. It’s kind of like paying business taxes ... it’s part of the deal.”
I think of Javier and wonder if he buys the eight-for-20 bulk rate or pays retail. He could have bought one $5 rock with the fin I gave him. I ask Chris and Rick if they know him.
“You have a lot of kids in their teenaged years who were crack babies when they were born,” Chris says. “You’re looking at people who are close to being adults who were born addicted. What’s that hotel over there on Wall and Winston, the Bixby? There’s a hotel there and there’s literally families ... moms and aunts with a bunch of kids. There’s one kid there who’s a juvenile. I’ve arrested him for sales. He’s like seven-two. Biggest kid I’ve ever seen in my life.”
No, not the big kid, I tell him. The little one with the harelip scar and the dirty fingers. Chris says he knows exactly who he is. In fact, he says he just saw him when he was going into the Criminal Courts building.
Boss of the Box
Shot-caller Captain Andy Smith is Chris and Rick’s boss and the ascendant master of all Skid Row cops. A true-blue straight shooter from Iron Mountain, Michigan, Smith is a steely eyed, smooth-operating ultra communicator with a tight rein on a mission from God (who takes his human form in the person of LAPD Chief William Bratton, who handpicked Smith).