After Largest Drug Bust in Chester History, Chester County DA Accidentally Describes Futility of Drug War

An investigation into drug traffickers who had operated for 20 years in the county ended with 44 arrests. But will it actually do much?

Last week, Chester County District Attorney Tom Hogan announced a huge drug bust. After a year-long investigation, the county completed the drug sting called Operation Telaraña (Spanish for spiderweb). The results: The arrests of 44 people, warrants out for 12 others and the disruption of a cocaine trafficking network that the DA said moved product into Chester County for the last 20 years. “This is the largest drug prosecution in the history of Chester County,” Hogan said.

Hogan said the huge bust “made Chester County a safer place to live, work and raise a family,” and there’s no doubt this bust did so. Drugs are dangerous to begin with, and their illegality makes them more-so (it’s nearly impossible to know the purity of illegal drugs). Plus, the people who sell them are sometimes, maybe even often, awful and violent.

Hogan said the bust was going to lessen the supply of drugs in the area: “They will be talking about this in the drug cartels, saying, ‘You know what, southern Chester County is not such a great place for us.'” (Presumably, this conversation would be in Spanish.)

But another quote from Hogan contradicted the statement that the cartels would be scared. “Will we go back here in this area again? Absolutely,” he said. “Will somebody try to fill his spot and take his money? Absolutely. Will we catch them too? Absolutely.” Basically: Someone will come in and fill this spot. And while the cops may catch these new dealers in the end, how long will it take? The previous dealers operated for 20 years! Why would the cartels be afraid?

Plus, the Inquirer’s Tricia Nadolny reports, the move could cause new cartels to move in. She quotes the work of Rice University post-doctoral fellow Nathan Jones: “This raid could prompt Mexican cartels to try to bolster their dominance in the area, he said.” The disruption of a drug market often leads to a power vacuum that only leads to more violence.

You don’t have to be in favor of the liberalization of drug laws to see the futility in this approach. Someone’s going to move in on this turf, even if the cartels are talking up Chester County. (“Have you heard about the Coatesville school district’s problems?” they’ll say, in Spanish. “What a mess!”) Treatment options that could lessen drug use are underfunded. Alternate enforcement approaches — like the focused deterrence program in South Philadelphia — don’t always have political support. And this cycle of boom and bust will continue.

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[Delco Times | NBC 10 | Inquirer]