Piauí Comes Together to Fight Crack
By Dialogo May 02, 2011
PORTO ALEGRE, Brazil – “I am very sad about the death of my son from drugs, but now I can rest.”
The recent confession from the mother of a crack addict to the Piauí Gov. Wilson Martins offers a clear picture of the devastating effects crack has on society.
“The stories get worse and worse,” says Fenelon Rocha, Piauí’s communications coordinator. “There are no age limits, no geographic borders or economic barriers. You can find crack all over the state and the effect has been tremendously devastating.”
The government launched an offensive to stop the spread of crack in Piauí after hearing pleas from families who have been torn apart by the highly addictive drug.
In January, the government introduced the Commission Against Crack and Other Drugs. The initiative unites the efforts of the governor’s office, the state’s legislative and judicial branches, and civic organizations in the fight against narcotics trafficking and consumption, Rocha says.
But the initiative’s main target is crack.
Here’s why: Nine out of every 10 violent crimes in Piauí involve drug use. In 80% of those cases, the drug used is crack, Rocha says.
In addition, 66% of the homicides recorded in Piauí in 2010 involved crack addicts, according to the state’s Office of Public Safety.
Once the commission was introduced, the statistics began to change.
“We’ve never dismantled so many gangs and drug-dealing spots before, nor have we arrested so many drug dealers,” says Col. Rubens Pereira, commander of the Piauí Military Police.
In January alone, officials arrested 18 suspects in connection with drug-related crimes in the state capital of Teresina, according to information from the Piauí Narcotics Control Bureau.
During the first three months of 2011, 170 were apprehended on narcotics trafficking charges in Piauí, Rocha says.
In 2010, 240 suspected narcotics dealers were arrested and 60 kilograms (132 pounds) of narcotics – 70% of which was crack – was seized, in addition to R$1 million (US$632,000) in cash, property and vehicles.
The initiative combats crack by focusing on apprehending traffickers and preventing the number of new users from growing.
That’s why the work of the commission begins in the schools, where workers try to reduce the number of users by telling students of the perils of crack before they come into contact with the narcotic, Rocha says.
The commission also is working to rehabilitate crack addicts.
The initiative is increasingly gaining public support in Piauí.
On April 17, more than 12,000 participated in the inaugural Piauí Walk Without Drugs through the streets of Teresina.
“People spontaneously joined in, which shows that society is also looking for a solution,” Rocha says.
Another challenge in the fight against crack is securing hospital beds to treat addicts.
The Piauí government has asked the Ministry of Health to increase its resources so it can provide more comprehensive treatment programs to a constantly growing number of addicts.
“More help needs to be made available for the addicts because there’s not enough to meet the current needs,” Rocha says.
Police receive specialized training
Piauí’s military and civil police forces are receiving specialized training from the Commission Against Crack and Other Drugs.
Since January, 363 officers have been trained. It is expected that 1,900 military police officers will complete the training program by June.
In the coming weeks, another 973 officers, including 450 in Teresina, are expected to receive certification.
One of the main objectives of the training program is to teach law enforcement agents to differentiate the crack dealer from the crack user, Col. Pereira says.
“We want to get past the social stigma that a chemically dependent person is a criminal,” Pereira says. “That person is a victim of the system, in need of treatment and support, and that is how he should be seen.”
The training also teaches officers to identify crack based on its appearance. The officers also will be taught to approach a suspected crack addict, as well as to provide the Intelligence Center with information regarding possible hotspots of narcotics activity.
“We want to ensure that every military police officer has the specific qualifications he or she needs to be successful,” explains Col. Pereira.
The police’s goal is to continue their pursuit of narcotics dealers, Pereira says.
“Through the efforts of the Commission Against Crack, we have been able to reduce statewide homicide rates by 36% during the first three months of 2011,” Pereira says.
February, with just seven reported homicides, had the lowest monthly total in Teresina in the past eight years, according to the head of the Civil Police’s Metropolitan Patrol.
A total of 35 homicides were committed in Teresina during the first three months of 2011, the fourth-lowest rate on record, behind the same period in 2003 (34 cases), 2009 (29 cases) and 2010 (30 cases).