Michigan city officials ignorant of problem

By Michael McVey

The sale of crack cocaine is a big problem in many cities, and it shows no signs of abating.

Authorities are making a major effort to control the drug trade, but it seems to defy cure.

Take Ann Arbor, a city of 110,000 in southeast Michigan about 45 miles west of Detroit. While 36,000 students crack textbooks at the University of Michigan, the crack dealers work hard to make easy money and to frustrate the law.

The crack trade may be Ann Arbor’s best-kept secret. Several calls to newspapers, police agencies, research and social agencies confirmed only that key people, some of whom have occupied their positions for several years, know almost nothing about crack in their community.

Capt. Terry Seames of the University of Michigan Police said his department has made no drug-related arrests since 1990, when the university department was formed. Until 1990, U of M was under the jurisdiction of the Ann Arbor Police Department, he said.

A 1986 Newsweek article specifically mentioned a “devastating” crack trade at U of M, and the apparent lack of awareness of it among locals.

It seems this denial still persists. Jackie Campbell of the Substance Abuse Center at U of M said she was not aware of any crack problem. When asked about the Newsweek article, she said 1986 was before her time.

But employers know. Keith Bruhnsen, manager of the Faculty and Staff Assistance Program, said from 1987 to 1989, 30 to 40 U of M employees a year were treated for crack. Often the treatment was unsuccessful, and the employees would be fired for poor attendance or performance. Bruhnsen said even sending employees to LifeLine, a drug rehabilitation center in Chicago, was ineffective.

Bruhnsen said since 1990 his cases have dropped to less than 10 a year. This may be because most addicts already have been dismissed, he added.

“Crack is a devastating drug. It affects all areas of life, and the addiction is difficult to overcome,” Bruhnsen said.

Paul Bunton of the Ann Arbor Police Department said there is a crack problem in Ann Arbor, but no more than in other communities. In 1986 he was the commander of the in-house narcotics unit, which joined the Livingston And Washtenaw (Counties) Narcotics Enforcement Team (LAW-NET) in 1989.

“Because the drug problem was regional, we often found ourselves going outside our jurisdiction (on crack cases),” Bunton said. “We thought a regional approach would be better.”

LAW-NET and the Ann Arbor Police had worked together since 1970, said Staff Sgt. Ralph Marroquin of LAW-NET.

Marroquin said he did not think U of M added to the crack problem. “If you call the police of a community the same size as Ann Arbor without a university, they’ll say yes, they have a crack problem,” he said.

Detroit and other nearby cities add somewhat to the crack trade, Marroquin said. The main reason for the rising incidence of crack dealing, however, is more availability of crack and the money made by selling it.

LAW-NET takes the crack problem seriously, Marroquin said. “We don’t sit back and let things happen. We do undercover purchases, street sweeping, and street level enforcement, as any community with a crack problem should,” Marroquin said. LAW-NET arrests over 100 people annually in drug busts, he added.

But for all the effort, the profit motive continues to feed the drug trade. There still is a steady increase in crack activity in Ann Arbor, Marroquin said. The local ignorance does not help either.

Joel Garreau, in “The Nine Nations of North America,” said the drug trade in Miami was much bigger than the DEA could handle.

The crack trade in other cities seems to be just as ominous.