GLOVERSVILLE - The presence of cocaine and heroin in the city has increased over the last year, but the police chief says his department is targeting drug dealers' local foothold.
Police say the demand for drugs is high in Gloversville and the surrounding area, resulting in more dealers, who are able to profit from higher prices.
Police also say they are seeing more gang members in the city, including members of the Bloods gang.
Gloversville police officers Michael Garavelli and Jonathon Silva are shown with weapons, money and drugs confiscated from drug raids.
City and state police have conducted numerous drug raids in the city this year, resulting in many arrests and large quantities of narcotics and cash being taken off the street, city Police Chief Donald VanDeusen said.
The department has conducted 17 searches from warrants this year, compared with 10 in 2012.
The department has made more than 37 drug arrests so far this year, and made more than 48 last year. But police say the numbers are higher. Suspects who were charged with offenses in addition to drug charges are not included in the figures.
"This has been a very busy and productive year," VanDeusen said. "That's because of the hard work of officers on the street and our detectives division. It also is because of the cooperation of our department with other local agencies where we share information and work on investigations together."
Capt. of Detectives Anthony Clay said over the years, the city has seen changes in the way drugs enter the city.
He said a lot of the heroin and cocaine recently found in the city primarily comes from New York City, Schenectady or Albany.
"We are seeing the guys that used to be in Schenectady or New York City or street gang members setting up shop here rather than the locals going to pick up to bring the drugs here," Clay said. "Before, we didn't have a ton of Bloods; if we had gang members in the city, it was kind of an in-and-out type of thing where they would come up over the weekend, and now we are seeing them taking up residence in the city."
He said many of the gang members or drug dealers who have access to large quantities of drugs move here because they can make a larger profit.
"It comes down to supply and demand," VanDeusen said. "Because of the demand and lack of availability in this area, it allows these larger dealers to bring [their] operation here and charge a higher price for their product. It is a business opportunity for them and is ultimately a risk-and-reward business."
Police recently have been raiding houses suspected of having illegal drugs in them.
Officials said it's dangerous to enter a residence because, while they have some information about the situation beforehand, nothing is certain.
Clay said the department will research several things before a search, including who lives in the residence, the number of rooms, whether children or dogs are in the house, and whether the occupants have a history of violence or access to weapons.
"You really never know what you're walking into," Clay said.
VanDeusen said the level of the threat and the presence of children will determine the way his department executes a search warrant. He said some searches are done by knocking on the door and serving the warrant, while others involve the element of surprise with police entering the residence with force.
Clay said they have found firearms or other weapons in some homes, but police were able to subdue the suspects before weapons could be used.
"Drug dealers aren't only worried about us coming in and kicking in their door, but also worried about others coming to rob them and things of that sort because there is a lot of drugs and money in their house," Clay said. "Often times, we find things set up for their self-protection, whether it is for us or other bad guys."
VanDeusen said taking the criminals off the street will improve the quality of life for the neighborhoods. He said the effort also eliminates behind-the-scenes intimidation and violence the dealers use to continue their drug trade.
Authorities said the most prevalent gang affiliation in the community with a connection to drugs has been the Bloods. Police also have seen some members of the Latin Kings in the area.
Clay said the recent drug busts in the city are the results of investigations coming together. Often, these investigations take months.
"It's a very long process," Clay said. "People have this misconception that they can call us and say my neighbor has some weird activity going on and we can come and kick in their door. There is months and months of investigation before we can get to the point of executing a search warrant."
VanDeusen said it takes time because the department has to make sure the search is justified and the complaint isn't an ongoing feud between neighbors or another dealer trying to stop competition.
"It depends where the information leads us," Clay said. "Also, if we do find information, we won't call back that neighbor to give them details on the process because we can't jeopardize the legality of our investigation."
Clay said the court process will begin before the alleged dealer is arrested because a search warrant must be approved by a judge after substantial information has been gathered.
"We've had investigations that are closed in a week, and we've had investigations that take over a year," VanDeusen said. "You really never know, but it's always a process."
Police face cultural and financial challenges in trying to stop the drug trade.
"The biggest problem with stopping it is it reaches so many segments of society," VanDeusen said. "Specifically, with marijuana, there is a culture out there that thinks this activity is OK."
In addition, the drug trade goes on around the clock, and police are limited by resources and money, local police agencies say.
Amsterdam Police Chief Greg Culick said his department has conducted numerous raids in the recent months related to the sale and distribution of heroin and cocaine.
"There is no end to it; they are popping up all over," Culick said. "If you buy a bag of heroin in New York City, it is usually about $5, but if you buy that same bag up here, it is usually $25, depending on the purity. If the word gets around that it is a more pure brand, the kids will pay more for it."
Culick said he has noticed more women participating in the sale of drugs.
"Three of the seven arrested in our last raid were women," Culick said.
He said he and his detectives have spoken with their district attorney about increasing the sentences for convicted drug dealers. He said dealers often start selling again once they get out of jail.
Johnstown Police Chief Mark Gifford said drugs are more prevalent in his city as well. He said his department is actively investigating certain situations, but he's limited by resources.
"[The drug trade] has increased in our city without a doubt," Gifford said. "In my opinion, it's becoming more mainstream as far as the people using the drugs."
Lt. Greg Thomas of the Capital Region New York State Police Community Narcotics Enforcement Team said his department is available to all of the surrounding municipalities.
"We are here to assist local police departments that don't have the resources available to them," Thomas said. "We will provide resources such as personnel for surveillance, the intelligence or expertise they may not have and often times the finances unavailable to them."
"We aren't foolish enough to think that we are going to stop this on our own," Gloversville's VanDeusen said. "We will need the continued support of the community and other law-enforcement agencies to tackle this problem."
VanDeusen said his department relies on community tips and information obtained by officers in his department and others to help track down drug offenders.
He said the community can play a major role in taking the drugs and criminals selling them off the street.
Clay said the department hasn't seen a large increase in the number of tips coming in from the public, but he and other detectives have noticed more recognition and appreciation following a search.
"I've noticed there is more of an intolerance out there as far as the [drug dealing] itself," VanDeusen said. "It used to be that people would turn a blind eye to it or learn to live next door, but now they are more inclined to give us a call. At this point, I'm hoping they are more confident in our abilities to bring results when they give a tip, but when they call, we let them know it isn't an overnight process and it will take some time."
VanDeusen said he encourages the public to come forward with any tips. He said those tips have the potential to help the department fight drug activity.
Fulton County District Attorney Louise Sira said she believes the ongoing battle with the drug trade isn't something that can be resolved by one department or the courts alone. She said the effort needs help from the entire community.
"I think heroin is on the rise because it is cheaper than crack cocaine," Sira said. "There has also been an increase in the relation of drugs and violent crimes. A big component to any community action related to drug crime is to address the need and desire for illegal substances because where there is no demand, there is no drug crime. Unfortunately, in our area, there is a high demand, and that has to be addressed not by the justice system, but society in general."
Levi Pascher can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.