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THE PHONY WARBEHIND THE LINES OF ARIZONA'S DRUG BATTLEFIELD

It was George Bush's first nationwide address as president.
When it was over and Bush finally put away the bag of "crack" cocaine, the network correspondents asked, "Just how do you wage a war against drugs--against the `casual users'?"

"Go to Phoenix, folks. Take a look at what they're doing there."
That was the answer the White House gave the national press in the wake of the president's September 5, 1989, declaration of "war" against drugs. And so last year the media descended on Phoenix to show the nation how well Maricopa County's "demand reduction" program was working.

From CBS came 48 Hours and Morning News. ABC sent Sam Donaldson and the PrimeTime Live crew. Naturally, NBC's Today Show was in town. In short order, all the local ballyhoo drew the Boston Globe, Wall Street Journal and other print media from around the country. But there was one problem.

The county's program had been in existence only a few months; it was too early to tell whether it was, in fact, working.

Now a year has passed since the cameras rolled into town and the nation's gaze fell upon the county's nascent "zero tolerance" program.

With the passage of time, the county's war effort--everything from the haunting, ubiquitous billboards (Do Drugs/Do Time) to the arrests and incarcerations--now has a track record.

For the past six months, a team of New Times reporters has investigated Phoenix's "model" drug war. The results are shocking.

It is a phony war.

In this and last week's issues, New Times shares with its readers several exposes on the local drug war. Among other revelations, New Times has found:

* Although originally touted by the Bush Administration as a war against crack, the county's Do Drugs/Do Time program has virtually ignored crack abuse. In fact, only one alleged crack abuser has completed classes at the Treatment Assessment Screening Center (TASC), a local company hired by the county to provide drug treatment for casual users.

* TASC's "diversion program" is accountable only to the County Attorney's Office, for which TASC collects large sums of money. Steve Radvick, the live-in boyfriend of TASC's executive director Barbara Zugor, won a federal grant to evaluate TASC. To date no one has taken any steps to remedy this conflict.

* No one in government knows exactly how much taxpayers' money is being funneled into Arizona's drug war, though a sprawling bureaucracy has burgeoned over the last three years. Worse, the law-enforcement community is content to obfuscate the official picture and keep the public in the dark about the costs.

* Although Arizona law requires annual reports of the Criminal Justice Commission--a state antidrug agency chaired by Maricopa County Attorney Richard Romley--no annual reports have been released for the last two years. The commission distributes millions of dollars of antidrug money to police and prosecutors.

* Key law-enforcement officials contend the celebrated Do Drugs/Do Time program is a failure. Former Department of Public Safety chief Ralph Milstead faults the program's preoccupation with casual marijuana use. Inexplicably, the government cannot tell whether the controversial program is working.

* John Blackburn, a former Romley campaign aide who developed the state's antidrug strategy and secured federal funds for the county attorney, has won more than $200,000 in consulting fees for "personal services" rendered to Romley's office. Incredibly, there were no competitive bids solicited by the county for the profitable consulting contracts.

* According to former federal drug czar William Bennett, Arizona enjoys "the best forfeiture law" in the country. Local law enforcement claims that the statute is used primarily against major drug dealers. New Times has learned, however, that a substantial number of the people who lost assets--mostly family cars and trucks--had possessed merely trace amounts (less than a gram) of contraband.

What emerges from New Times' investigation is the picture of an unwieldy, unaccountable antidrug bureaucracy. That behemoth has fattened a variety of private parties lucky enough to land lucrative contracts. What also emerges is the snapshot of a government that has learned to profit from its citizens' drug use. In Arizona, the government doesn't even know how much its "war" costs, much less how to define "victory."

Finally, our investigation reveals a system that is anything but fair: The county's Do Drugs/Do Time program means one thing for its poor and minority constituents, and something quite different for everyone else.

In these features, you'll meet a number of characters:
* The principal of a Phoenix inner-city school who served on the 26-member National Commission on Drug-Free Schools. After rethinking his position, he concluded that alcohol and tobacco--not illegal drugs--are the greatest threats to schoolchildren and society at large. * A tough-guy social worker whose rare combination of realism and compassion is helping wage a surprisingly effective fight against drugs on the front line.

* A grade school teacher who awards scholarships out of her own pocket, and concerned cops who attend club meetings of impoverished youth--all of them on hazardous duty in the real war zone.

* A blind New Mexican and his wife who thought they were going to a Paul McCartney concert at Tempe's Sun Devil Stadium and instead wound up doing time in a downtown Phoenix jail.

* A 25-year-old black man from Phoenix who sold a $20 rock of crack and was sentenced to fifty years in prison.

These are the faces--the heroes, villains and victims--of Arizona's war on drugs. Hear their stories. Mark their words. Go to Phoenix, folks.

It is a phony war.

end of introduction to drug package

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David J. Bodney