Drug War Blowback
The shooting of Felix Rosales raises persistent questions about APD tactics
By Jordan Smith, Fri., Dec. 21, 2007
Autumn finally arrived in Austin shortly after midnight on Monday, Oct. 22. On Sunday, the temperature had peaked at nearly 90 degrees, before beginning a steady overnight descent, prompted by a strong cold front pushing across Central Texas. The norther brought stiff winds and heavy rain, and Monday's high temperature of 74 registered just before 12:30am, as the mercury continued to drop. By 6am the rain was still coming down, and the wind was gusting up to 40 mph.
It would've been a good day to sleep late.
For a team of at least seven Austin Police Department narcotics officers, that was not an option. In fact, the officers – including several detectives and at least one sergeant – were not only awake but were already at work, clad in their "battle dress" blacks, Kevlar vests and helmets, preparing to execute a drug warrant at the home of Felix and Cruz Rosales in the Montopolis neighborhood of South Central Austin. Under a search warrant signed three days earlier by Travis Co. District Judge Melissa Goodwin, the officers were authorized to be there to search for a "quantity of cocaine" and for other items associated with the drug trade: U.S. currency; drug paraphernalia, including scales, plastic bags, and vials; tally sheets or ledgers documenting drug transactions; and photographs or video recordings a dealer might make of himself and his stash (perhaps for black-market bragging rights).
Just after 6am, roughly a half-hour before sunrise, the team was in place, outside the Rosales home on Club Terrace Drive, and ready to execute the warrant. According to the narratives of two subsequent police affidavits, the events on the morning of Oct. 22 began in a rather routine and orderly manner. The lead case agent, Detective John Wills, led the warrant team to the front door of the Rosales home where Detective Randy Dear knocked on the door and began to yell repeatedly: "Austin Police! Search warrant! Open the door!" His shouts turned into something of a cop chorus when at least two other officers, Wills and Detective Aaron Bishop, joined in; Sgt. Robert McGowan added his voice to the mix, counting for a "considerable amount of time" – that is, counting to 15 – in order to give the occupants a chance to answer the door. When McGowan reached 15, however, no one inside the home had responded. By law, the provisions of their standard "knock and announce" warrant were satisfied, and the officers were cleared to force entry – they broke down the front door with a battering ram.
What happened next, however, wasn't exactly routine – nor was it sufficiently anticipated. According to Detective Russell Overhue, members of the team continued to "announce their presence" as they entered the house; shortly thereafter, he said, he heard "what he believed to be" a gunshot. As he made his way through the front door and into the living room, Overhue said he saw colleague Detective Robert Benfer "down on the ground and ... not initially moving."
Bishop heard the gunshot, too, he told police investigators. Looking across the living room and into the kitchen, Bishop first saw an unarmed Hispanic male, later identified as Jesse Rosales; shifting his gaze left, Bishop next saw an "elderly male," later identified as 72-year-old Felix Rosales, standing at the entrance to the hallway and holding a "semiautomatic handgun," he said. Several officers, including Bishop, yelled for Rosales to drop his weapon, but Rosales did not comply. Bishop said he then saw Rosales "raise the gun" toward detectives Benfer and Wills. "To prevent Rosales from harming anyone else," Bishop told investigators "he was forced to fire upon the suspect." The shot struck Rosales in the chest. The officers quickly retreated, back through the front door, pulling Benfer with them to safety. As the officers were leaving, Bishop said, he could see Rosales at the far end of the hallway, lying on the floor near the bathroom door.
Once outside, the officers yelled for Jesse Rosales to come out of the house. He did so and was followed by his mother, 70-year-old Cruz Rosales. The only person left inside, mother and son told police, was the wounded Felix. The APD Special Weapons and Tactics team was called in and – roughly an hour later, after deploying a robot to survey the scene inside – the SWAT officers removed Felix Rosales from the house.
Rosales and Benfer were treated at Brackenridge Hospital. Benfer took a bullet that tore straight through his foot and landed in the front yard; he was treated and released that afternoon. Rosales' injury required surgery. Although police told reporters that Rosales was "expected to make a full recovery," it isn't clear that is (or ever was) the case. At press time, Rosales was still in the hospital and in the custody of the Travis Co. Sheriff's Office, charged with attempted capital murder for, according to an arrest warrant, "intentionally and knowingly shooting a firearm at peace officers." Should Rosales ever recover sufficiently to be tried, and if he's convicted, he could spend his remaining years in prison.
It wasn't long after the initial action subsided that APD Chief Art Acevedo arrived at the scene on Club Terrace. The chief told reporters that officers executing the search warrant at the Rosales home acted exactly as they were supposed to. They knocked on the door and clearly announced their presence before entering the house, where they were met with gunfire, he said. In response, he said, his officers "did exactly what they were trained to do," reported KVUE's Melissa McGuire. "We're just happy that no lives were lost, including the suspect," Acevedo said. "We think [Rosales is] going to make it, because our job is to keep the peace and keep people safe, and it appears no lives were lost in this incident."
Whether Rosales will indeed "make it" remains to be seen. Members of the Rosales family declined to be interviewed for this story, but sources familiar with the case say that Felix Rosales' physical condition is precarious at best. More important is the question of whether executing a drug warrant by means of a "dynamic entry" – such as the routine knock-and-announce procedure APD employed on Club Terrace – is actually a way to "keep the peace" or "keep people safe." That's a matter of widespread national debate, and many policing experts question the tactics involved in executing such raids and their efficacy in deterring the illicit drug trade. "Unfortunately, this is standard operating procedure throughout the country, and in my view [the raids] are really contrary to the basic police mission, which is to protect life and property," says Joseph McNamara, a research fellow with Stanford University's Hoover Institution, who began his 35-year policing career in Seventies New York City before being named police chief, first in Kansas City and later in San Jose, Calif. "I have reached the conclusion that police departments do not give consideration to balancing the dangers and achievements of these raids."
Executing a search warrant, particularly one issued for a private residence, is among the most dangerous of all police operations. There is a risk to everyone involved – not only for residents and neighbors, but also for the police officers charged with carrying out the task. This is precisely because, no matter how much planning is involved, it is nearly impossible to predict what lies behind a closed door. And mitigating, or controlling for that element of surprise, is crucial to a safe and successful operation, says APD Cmdr. Duane McNeill, who oversees the department's newly organized Metro Tactical team, which includes the narcotics and organized-crime units. "We put in as many safeguards as we can," he says. "We try to do as much research as we can before executing the warrant."
All research, of course, begins with the initial investigation, which will ultimately become the underlying basis for any warrant. Simply put, the investigative legwork focuses on attaching a particular suspect (or suspects) to evidence of a suspected crime in order to build the elements of probable cause. Those elements are then organized into a narrative and presented to a judge who is tasked with reviewing the detective work and submitted facts before deciding whether the totality of the evidence supports a law-enforcement request to enter a private dwelling for the purpose of exposing an alleged criminal act. Probable cause is far more than bare suspicion and is generally defined within law as the "existence of certain facts which would lead a person of reasonable intelligence and prudence to believe that a crime has been committed." In other words, says McNeill, investigators need more than just a random tip in order to earn the legal right to enter a person's home: "It's not like someone just calls us and says, 'Hey, someone's dealing drugs,' and we just write that up and get a warrant," he says. In fact, he says, of "all the warrants issued by a judge, a search warrant for a residence is the most difficult to obtain because we're talking about a Fourth Amendment right" to be secure in home and property and free from unreasonable search and seizure. "The judge is an independent fact-finder," says McNeill, "so it's really difficult" to obtain permission to search a person's property.
In a perfect world that might be true, says Hoover fellow McNamara, but the day-to-day reality is quite different – particularly when it comes to obtaining search warrants in drug cases. McNamara argues that getting drug warrants is "extremely easy to do – and not just in Texas – because drugs are 'evil,' and we're engaged in a 'war' against [this] evil." As a result, he says, over time, police can determine which judges are most sympathetic to their cause and learn that they can often get a warrant without putting in the kind of rigorous front-end legwork that would truly establish probable cause. That extra front-end work would mean dedicating investigative time and energy to building fewer but more substantial cases, against higher-level dealers that may actually have more impact on the drug trade in a particular community.
Instead, the Drug War has rendered much of narcotics enforcement a game of numbers for public-safety bean-counters, where effective policing is measured by quantity – the total number of raids, for example, and arrests and drug or property seizures – instead of by the quality of the police action and of the crooks apprehended. "I've locked up many, many drug users, but I just think [that this is] a social and medical problem, and that by making it a crime problem, we've just created a huge black market for violence," says McNamara. "All too often police don't accept that."
Since 2003, APD's narcotics detectives have executed close to 400 drug warrants each year at private residences. (The exception is 2004, when they executed just 220 such warrants.) As of mid-December, the 2007 total stood at 377 warrants, including the raid at the Rosales home. "It is a lot," and the work is "not easy," McNeill notes. "[But] we're going to do our job. If that means a lot" of warrants, then his investigators will pursue and serve those warrants.
The danger, of course, is that placing a premium on productivity also places lives at risk – including the lives of police officers. "It [becomes] about making numbers – knocking 'em down and moving on to the next. Sacrificing good investigative work, common sense, good judgment, and officer safety," says one veteran APD investigator. "They get in a hurry to get things done – to answer citizen complaints about dope houses. That's fine, but let's not sacrifice officer safety."
McNeill denies vociferously the notion that his officers ever slight their investigative duties or inadequately consider safety factors when preparing to serve a warrant. "All the factors as to the execution of the search warrant [are reviewed and planned] based on the danger element," he said. They run each warrant they serve through a "risk matrix," for example, and in cases where the danger element is extremely high, the warrant is kicked up to the SWAT team to handle. And although sergeants are responsible for approving all warrant actions, McNeill says he is apprised of his team's operations and goes out with them as often as possible. "The thing that drives me, and the message I send to my folks, is that we take care of people in the community and victims of crime," he says. "We do all the planning and preparation and communication and hope it turns out good. As with Rosales, you know, that [still] doesn't always ensure the best outcome."
The Grace of God
By all available indications, the police investigation into the Rosales family – or presumably, the investigation of Felix Rosales – began less than a month before the raid. APD Detective Wills did not include in his three-page search-warrant affidavit the date the investigation commenced, but he does detail the phone call that got things rolling. According to the affidavit he filed with Goodwin on Oct. 19, Wills "received information from a concerned citizen that there is an elderly Hispanic male that is keeping and distributing crack cocaine from their residence on Club Terrace," he wrote, from a home with "a large sculpture of a baseball bat in the front yard." Wills "conducted surveillance" on the entire length of Club Terrace and, finding only one with a baseball bat in the yard, surmised that this was the house in question. He shagged the license plate number off a car parked in the drive and confirmed that it was registered to Cruz Rosales; moreover, he noted that the Austin Energy database identified Felix Rosales as the utility customer at the home. He also perused APD records, he wrote, which revealed that a younger Rosales, 30-year-old Philip Cruz, had once been charged with "resisting arrest." (There are no details regarding this arrest included in Wills' affidavit, and a similar criminal-records check conducted by the Chronicle failed to discover any criminal history for the younger Rosales.)
On Tuesday, Oct. 9, Wills' colleagues detectives Bishop and Rodrick Wesley cruised by the Rosales home to make a trash pull; they saw that the bin was set out at the curb for pickup, Wills explained, and "retrieved the entire ... bin" for inspection. Inside, Wills reports, the detectives found a "clear plastic baggie containing a white powder residue," that tested "positive ... for cocaine." Wills also reported finding discarded mail addressed to Felix and Cruz Rosales. A week later, on Oct. 16, Wills returned to Club Terrace to make another pass of the Rosales trash. This time, he wrote, he extracted additional clear plastic bags, one of which, it seems, also tested positive for cocaine; Wills also "noticed" that "several" of the baggies had "been cut open and wiped clean," he wrote. (The language of the warrant isn't precise, making it hard to determine exactly how many plastic bags Wills ultimately found – or what size they were – but apparently there were at least two.) "Based on the total number of baggies found, affiant believes that suspect is distributing cocaine," Wills wrote.
The detective's affidavit was topped off with boilerplate language about how drug dealers are known to keep cash on hand, along with "books, records, receipts, ledgers, bank records ... and other papers relating to the sale and distribution of illegal controlled substances," as well as other "paraphernalia for packaging, cutting, weighing" and distributing drugs. The "investigation" was complete, and the warrant was crafted. And that was good enough for Judge Goodwin.
Nonetheless, the warrant – and the underlying investigation – left several significant stones unturned. For example, although the concerned citizen made a complaint about an "elderly" dealer living on Club Terrace, the warrant never mentions Felix Rosales except to report that his name appears on the electric and water bill and that he apparently receives mail there. Although Rosales had had contacts with the law before – including a 1956 beef for carrying a "prohibited weapon," a marijuana possession case from 1968, and a conviction for "assault of a peace officer" from 1974 – Wills never mentions Rosales' history. Likewise, there is no larger context offered for Philip Cruz Rosales' alleged run-in with the police. In sum, there is nothing within the warrant to suggest who, specifically, the police believed to be selling cocaine at the Rosales home.
Nonetheless, with two trash pulls under their belts, the APD narcotics officers set out in the early-morning hours of Oct. 22 for the Rosales home, where it appears they felt confident they'd make a good dope collar. In the end, however, the officers found far less evidence of crime than they apparently expected. It was a little more than an hour after the officers initially hit the home that Felix Rosales was taken to Brackenridge and the officers were finally cleared to search the premises. According to a warrant return inventory filed with the court on Oct. 24, police seized about 0.2 grams of cocaine (a minuscule amount – about one-twelfth the weight of a penny). They also found 4.9 grams of marijuana (a little less than a quarter-ounce); several "bags and vials" with cocaine residue; two bottles of marijuana seeds; four digital scales and one hand scale; small quantities of random prescription medications, including pain relievers, muscle relaxants, and anti-convulsants; and $344 in cash.
Significantly, based on the kind and amount of drugs listed in the return, it doesn't appear that enough contraband was seized to charge Felix Rosales (or perhaps any other member of the family) with anything more than a state jail felony for possession of cocaine, plus misdemeanor charges for the pot and paraphernalia possession. The evidence hardly suggests a major dealer on the premises. That is irrelevant now, however, because Rosales is facing a far more serious charge: that he intentionally and knowingly tried to kill a police officer.
Officially, the APD landed a "good collar" – but was it worth it? That was the question on the minds of many in the hours after the raid. "It was but for the grace of God that the guy [Felix Rosales] couldn't shoot," one reporter told me in passing. "Otherwise we'd now have one dead civilian and at least one dead cop."
Protected by Smith & Wesson
To Radley Balko, a former policy analyst with the Cato Institute who has authored the definitive research to date on the rise of military policing tactics in the War on Drugs, the outcome of the Rosales raid is just another sad example of the dangers inherent in using dynamic-entry raids in low-level drug enforcement. "I'm deeply skeptical of these techniques in general," he says, because in many instances – including the Rosales case – the practical result is that the police are actually "creating violence."
For starters, Balko argues that the Rosales investigation clearly wasn't as rigorous as it could have, or should have, been: "If you're going to invade someone's home, you need more than confidential tips and trash pulls," he says, before rattling off several similar situations he's aware of where limited investigation had deadly results – including the recent story of a Baltimore woman whose home was raided based solely on evidence from a trash pull. She was "in her bedroom and had a gun," Balko recalled; she heard someone breaking into the house, he said, and grabbed the gun. When the police entered her room she was shot and killed. Later, he said, police discovered they'd actually hit the wrong house.
Unfortunately, these are not isolated incidents, says Jack Cole, a former narcotics investigator with the New Jersey State Police who, after retiring from police work, in 2002 became one of three founding members of the nonprofit group Law Enforcement Against Prohibition. "It's all the same. They kicked the guy's door down," he says. "And what happens when you kick someone's door down at 6am and they're asleep? If they've got a gun nearby, they're going to grab it."
Indeed, there was no surveillance of the Rosales home before police applied for, and got, their search warrant, even though surveillance could have netted valuable information about any drug-dealing operation going on inside – including patterns of activity and behavior by residents and, perhaps, information on customers who might be coming by to score, which might have offered the detectives an opportunity to set up a controlled buy that in turn might have reduced their need to find a "quantity" of drugs inside the house in order to file a solid criminal case. In all, the information could have helped build a far stronger case against Felix Rosales. "If you really have a strong case, you shouldn't depend so much on the evidence found at the scene," says McNamara. "[Because] you've done undercover buys and other investigation."
Moreover, a modest amount of additional investigative work quite likely would've made the entire operation safer – and, quite possibly, might have saved Benfer and Rosales from being wounded or at least might have prompted the officers to consider taking a different approach to serve the warrant. Frankly, what the officers didn't know before hitting the house could've gotten them killed.
Specifically, they were unaware that the Rosales family had a total of 16 firearms, many of them loaded, inside the house. Amazingly, the possibility that weapons would be found in the house is never mentioned in Wills' search warrant affidavit – even though even a casual observer of the Rosales home on Club Terrace would likely reach that conclusion after spotting a sign posted behind a screen window just off the front porch that reads "Protected by Smith & Wesson." Apparently the detectives simply didn't look.
When APD homicide investigators later obtained a warrant to search for evidence connected to the shooting, they found four pistols, including a Colt .45 and a 9 mm Makarov, and 12 revolvers, including a .357-caliber Magnum Ruger, a .38-caliber special Rossi, and a collection of .22s.
McNeill couldn't comment directly on the substance of the Rosales case but explained that each narcotics investigation his officers conduct is unique, driven primarily by the "exigencies" and "emergency" of the alleged crime. "Not all investigations have the same time frame. There are long-term investigations, up to a year or more, and we may have times where [a case] is resolved the same day it comes to our attention," he says. "I think, like anything you do in any aspect of life, we always ask: Is there more we could've done? More to cross the 'T's and dot the 'I's? The thing is, in this job you do the most thorough job you can, and then you move on."
One SWAT Fits All
The use of dynamic-entry raids – with knock-and-announce warrants, like that in the Rosales case, or even the more reviled "no-knock" warrant, which allows police to force entry without any warning at all and has been implicated in a number of questionable shooting deaths – has become more common in policing drugs (see "The Trail of Dead"). Experts McNamara and Cole say that isn't because they're uniquely necessary for drug-law enforcement. Moreover, says Cole, there is no scholarly research "to suggest that this stuff is effective" for drug enforcement.
The use of military-style dynamic entry began as the primary bailiwick of Special Weapons and Tactics teams. The modern police SWAT team – the most militarized and specialized of all policing operations – is generally thought to have been invented in the mid-Sixties by officers at the Los Angeles Police Department, who were inspired by the use of a specialized policing team in Delano, Calif., assembled to counter farmworker uprisings led by César Chávez. In the wake of several high-profile incidents – including the 1966 UT Tower sniper killings – the specialized teams quickly gained favor with the public and have been incorporated within police agencies across the country.
SWAT training is time-consuming and rigorous; maintaining a SWAT team is expensive, though equipping the teams has been made more affordable by agreements with the federal government, which will provide military gear for most any police department that wants it. In general, the mission of a SWAT team is extremely specialized, and it is particularly efficient in extremely dangerous situations – "barricaded people with hostages," for example, says Cole. "That's what [SWAT teams] were organized for, and they are very good when used for that" type of critical incident work. But as the Drug War ramped up in the Eighties, not only were police SWAT teams being called on more frequently to run routine drug warrants, but SWAT-style tactics – including the dynamic-entry raid – were increasingly being taught to non-SWAT officers in order to execute warrants, often for lower-level drug offenses. And that, experts say, is where things have gotten more dangerous. According to research conducted by Eastern Kentucky University professor Peter Kraska, by the early 1980s there were 3,000 annual SWAT team deployments across the country; by 2001 that number increased to about 40,000 call-outs.
David Klinger, a former police officer who began his career in Los Angeles before turning to academics and joining the faculty at the University of Missouri in St. Louis, has done extensive research on the police use of SWAT, which he considers a vital police resource. There are "times and places" where police should avail themselves of SWAT-style dynamic entry, especially "where you want, or need, to secure evidence that is easily destroyed," he says. "Say you've got a guy that killed someone else, and you get information that there's a letter inside [his] house that he wrote that lays out everything about the murder" he's committed, Klinger posits. The letter can be "easily destroyed," and imagine that "without it your murder case would fall apart," he continues. "In that situation you say, 'Okay, fine, we're going to do that,'" in order to preserve crucial evidence. But like McNamara and Cole, Klinger doesn't believe that using these tactics for drug enforcement is a good idea: "You asked about cost-benefit analysis," he said. "For my money, it's just not worth the risk to secure dope." (It would appear that the public agrees: A recent Zogby poll commissioned by the Drug Reform Coordination Network asked 1,028 likely voters whether they believed that police should use "aggressive entry tactics" in "often low-level drug enforcement" cases. The response was definitive: 65.8% – a majority across all geographic, racial, religious, and political lines – said no.)
In part that is true, Klinger said, because police have plenty of far less risky options that are at least equally effective, if not more effective, for executing drug warrants. While a case could be made for the "display of force" inherent in a dynamic raid for the execution of warrants against known "kingpins," he said a far safer option is to execute a warrant by "contain and call-out" – generally, where police announce their presence, ask the resident to come outside, and then wait for that to happen. While Klinger concedes this approach might offer drug dealers time to flush their stash, he says that isn't necessarily a bad thing: "If they're going to destroy the dope and if this is a big enough operation, and you do this [kind of enforcement action] six or seven times, then it's not going to be economically feasible" for the suspects to continue their dealings.
Notably, says Law Enforcement Against Prohibition's Cole, dynamic-entry raids aren't integral to effective policing but are to the "attitude" of drug-law enforcement, he says. "It's this kind of attitude, of kicking down the door, even when it's not necessary," says Cole. And that sort of attitude can serve as a flash point for avoidable and potentially deadly violence – such as the predawn shooting inside the Rosales home. While police might say that the overwhelming show of force inherent to this type of raid is in fact key to effective enforcement, Cole says that more often than not it's simply an invitation to trouble. "Police say [dynamic entry] scares the heck out of 'em," Cole summarizes, "and they panic when they hear the door coming down," which supposedly paralyzes the suspects before they can react, offering police a better opportunity to control the situation. "That may be true," he continues, "but people panic for a couple of reasons: because they think there are cops breaking down the front door or because they don't think that it is the cops that are actually breaking down the front door." And that, he says, is dangerous – especially considering that in these situations the police are usually dealing with sleepy, groggy individuals. "Anyway you look at it, it is bad policing."
The APD insists that Rosales must have realized the intruders in his home were police – in part, because the younger Rosales, Jesse, appeared to understand the officers' commands to "get down on the ground," as APD Detective Jeff Greenwalt wrote in the subsequent warrant affidavit for Felix Rosales' arrest on the attempted murder charge. However, there is no publicly available evidence that confirms the elder Rosales knew what was happening that morning. Interviewed outside the Rosales home on Oct. 22, Elisabeth Rosales, Felix's granddaughter, told KVUE news that her grandfather has poor hearing and eyesight. "He could've thought it was a burglar. He just woke up. ... He hears something," she said. "What is he going to do? Somebody's in his house, and he's shocked. He's an old man – what do you want him to do?"
"It's [generally] a lot more sensible to convince someone to come outside, and then you've got them, and you can go back in, and then there's even less a chance that drugs are going to go into the toilet." These enforcement actions pose far less "danger to human life," says McNamara, but do require more extensive investigation and surveillance. "Wait for the guy to go out" to serve the warrant, he says. "If he really is making money, he'll have to spend it someplace."
McNeill says that his officers consider carefully every case before deciding which tactics they'll use to execute a warrant and that his officers are well-trained and often consult with the SWAT team. "You look at the totality of the circumstances, and we certainly want to bring it to a conclusion that is as safe as possible. You develop your game plan and look at all your options and strategies," he says. In fact, McNeill says, APD officers have employed the kind of strategies championed by Klinger, Cole, and McNamara. "We've sat outside [on surveillance] waiting for people to leave for days and ... sometimes the resources are an issue," McNeill says – including, presumably, the cost of overtime for investigators – although he insists that the "cost of the operation" does not "govern" their choice of approach: "We always put safety out in the forefront of what we do. [But] at some point you have to execute the warrant."
Quality of Life
In the last analysis, it's not at all clear how effective such warrant operations are in actually deterring the illicit drug trade. "The thing is, it is a business model based on supply and demand – as long as there is a demand, someone is going to take care of the supply," says McNeill. "I liken it to a fire-ant mound – you take care of one, and then two or three more suddenly appear." On that point, it seems, everyone agrees. For McNamara, Cole, and Klinger, that reality has actually worked to change their opinions about the Drug War in general and about Drug War policing in particular. "It shows you how the 'duty to protect' is so twisted to put a higher premium on seizing dope, when you know that the next day two more dealers will be there to take over for the guy they arrested," says McNamara. In the Rosales case – or, really, in any such operation – McNamara says that there is really only one question police should answer: "Does this raid mean that the level of drug use will go down in this community?" he asks. "If they answer honestly, they'll say, 'Maybe, temporarily.'"
McNeill won't discuss details of the Rosales case in particular but says that when police "have a proactive stance [on drug enforcement], you may make more of a difference." Ultimately, he says, his job is to "enforce the laws," not to decide whether drugs should be legal. "When I took over [the] organized crime [unit], I said we're going to serve all warrants," regardless of the size or scope of the suspected drug operation. "A drug house in a neighborhood – what some call 'quality of life' warrants – [regardless of] whether there is a little bit [of drugs] or a major amount, those folks that live in that neighborhood do not deserve to have that element in their neighborhood," he says. "When that comes to our attention, we have an obligation, a commitment, to investigate."
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