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22 wasted warrants, bodega baggie bust scandal deepens
So instead of going after "big fish", cold blooded killers like Kaboni Savage, it turns out, according to the Daily News, an "elite" narcotics squad led by Jeffrey Cujdik raided local bodegas and tabacco shops 22 times to crack down on that terrible threat to public safety, little plastic baggies. Plastic baggies that literally anyone with an internet connection and a check card can order for less than a penny a piece in a dizzying array of custom designs.
We've discussed this case on YPP before, but this mindbogglingly goofy waste of police resources it seems to extend on a scale unimagined before.
In six months alone, Cujdik's squad and another squad, which included his brother, Richard, raided 22 bodegas, boutiques, tobacco shops and other stores for drug paraphernalia, according to a Daily News analysis of search-warrant applications between July and December 2007.
And lets remember what these cops were allegedly doing with these warants while they were working on the taxpayer's dime.
The Daily News over the past three weeks has uncovered allegations leveled by 15 store owners that Cujdik, his brother, and officers who worked with them, destroyed or cut wires to surveillance cameras during the raids. Once the cameras went dark, thousands of dollars in cash and merchandise disappeared, contend the store owners, all of whom were arrested. Their stores were left in shambles. Before the officers left and locked the stores, they allegedly helped themselves to snacks, drinks and cigarettes, and left refrigerator doors open, spoiling the food inside. They swept merchandise from the shelves onto the floor, the merchants said.
Awesome example of "smart" deployment of police resources, right?
Still Police Commissioner Ramsey puts on his game face to defend the seemingly indefensible.
Police Commissioner Charles Ramsey said that officers target merchants who sell the ziplock bags because the sales hurt the quality of life in the neighborhood by attracting drug dealers.
"It's a law and unless the law changes, it's enforceable," he said.
So Commish, according to idiotlaws.com, its also against the law in PA for people to get married while drunk, sing in the bathtub and to clean their house by sweeping dust under a rug. Are you also going to justify commiting a squad of 10 of your "elite" officers to also enforce these laws for the next 6 months as diligently? Obviously you as Commissioner have discretion to set priorities for enforcing laws that most impact public safety and raiding bodegas for plastic baggies widely available from different sources would seem to be a waste of precious manhours - even if the cops are not using it steal on the job.
Stealing is exactly, by the way, what some think the cops were doing.
"Rogue cops were using [the law] as an excuse to harass, intimidate, steal from, and destroy your store and hurt your business," said Curtis Rider, whose Pearl of Africa store on South Street was among the 22 raided.
"They really wanted to just come in and get game [steal]. It was a nightmare."
A local criminologist characterizes store owners like Rider as "easy targets."
"These guys are low-lying fruit for a crooked cop," said Patrick Carr, a sociology professor at Rutgers University who specializes in ways to combat crime and drugs.
"By all accounts, these cops are not playing by the rules . . . The number of raids that took place, it just reeks like last month's fish," he said. "There's no altruism in what they're doing. It's naked self-interest."
Cujdik might well be that proverbial corrupt "one bad apple" but why defend the misdirection of resources in busting baggie selling bodegas at all? Clearly the types of raids he was doing (and getting warrants for) are not his job description's top priority.
According to Jeremiah Daley, the former head of the Narcotics Department, "The main focus of the Narcotics Field Unit was to investigate violent drug-related organizations and neighborhood drug traffickers inside residential and commercial properties". I don't seeempty plastic baggies as topping of that list of priorities executing that goal. Maybe its just me.
I (and others) wonder why not just leave this empty platic baggie issue entirely to L&I rather than the criminal justice system to enforce. If the issue is "quality of life" to the surrounding neighborhood, one has to wonder if attacking bodegas does more damage than good.
"The store is closed for six months or so, but on that corner, or one, two blocks away, drugs are sold and guys are armed," said Patrick Carr, a Rutgers University sociology professor. "They say quality of life - whose quality of life are we talking about?
"With the store closed, who will sell diapers, milk and bread?"
"The end result is not worth the pursuit of this," Carr added. "To bog down the court system that is already overwhelmed with this, is foolish."
Unfortunately L&I does not want the responsibility because they would have to write too many tickets.
In an interview last month, Kevin Daly, chief of L&I's Nuisance Task Force, said this wouldn't work because merchants make lots of money off the bags.
"I don't think it would have any impact at all because there is money to be made," he said.
Um don't know if Mr. Daly realizes this but the city is in a major budget crisis and his department writing lots of tickets is actually a revenue stream for the city, whereas unjustified police raids and arrests and court cases and then big settlements from the city to wronged merchants after the corrupt cops get indicted themselves is a real big drain on the city's budget.
Gee Mr. Daly, apparently its just too much work for you to do your job and possibly generate some revenue for the city in the process. Have to remember to write that down for when the budget crisis forces layoffs of city workers. Kevin Daly does not like to work too hard generating the revenue for the city that pays his salary, got it.
Will someone please step up and say the obvious? We have too many drug-related homicides in this city. Enforcing plastic baggie sales was never and will never be a legitimate use of limited police resources. Not a single warrant should have been issued for this - ever. Its a collosal waste of resouces in a city where our courts and criminal justice system is already badly overburdened and it took real resources away from busting real bad guys, protecting real Philadelphia citizens. Its well past time for some common sense to be excercised in this case. Empty plastic baggie raids are not legitimate police priorities - period.