EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

Merrimack Valley

April 29, 2013

Return of Special Operations Division cuts into drug trade

More than 1,000 narcotics arrests made in one year

LAWRENCE – A renewed strategy to have an investigative unit focus on the city’s illegal drug trade has paid off with dramatic results for the Lawrence Police Department, according to Chief John Romero.

”We’re talking about the confiscation of drugs with three quarters of a million dollars in street value,” Romero said, calculating the net worth of the drug seizures by the Special Operations Division a year after its reactivation.

”More than 1200 arrests, $188,000 in currency seized and 23 guns taken off the streets. That’s huge and that’s the work of 14 people,” the chief said.

”We’ve got a long ways to go, but we’re turning the corner. We’re starting to deal with the underlying issues that cause crime, like we used to,” he said.

The 14-officer unit headed by Capt. Roy Vasque is broken down to three parts — the Street Narcotics Unit, Auto Theft/Insurance Fraud and Community Policing. The officers assigned to those groups remain flexible, with their responsibilities changing almost daily based on the most recent crime trends.

”This strategy has allowed the division to assign as many officers as possible to work on a specific problem, whether it’s drugs, auto theft or a community policing issue,” Vasque said.

“With limited manpower the division has spent the majority of it’s time focusing on the drug trade. ... By attacking the drug problem on a daily basis the division felt it could have a positive impact on reducing overall crime,” he said.

Special Operations had been at the core of Romero’s success as police chief since taking over the police force 14 years ago. The division once had 40 officers involved, enough to work exclusively in their units while concentrating on specific crimes.

But all that changed in mid-2010, when Mayor William Lantigua was forced to lay off 24 officers and demote 11 superior officers to balance the city’s budget in the midst of serious fiscal problems which led to a state-appointed receiver to oversee the city’s finances.

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