This is part 3 of 4 of my conversation with Pennsylvania Attorney General Kathleen Kane. Part 1 posted on Tuesday and Part 2 was posted yesterday.
What are issues that plague Pennsylvania regarding drug trafficking?
The incredible supply of drugs that’s coming into Pennsylvania. We went to the southwest border. We went to Colorado, Arizona, Texas, and we went out with the border patrol and we crossed the border into Mexico because we felt it was important to work not only with our Federal partners but our international partners, in fighting the drugs coming across the border. Almost all of the illegal drugs, not the prescription drugs but the narcotics, are coming up through Mexico. They estimate that they stop about 40% of the drugs which is frightening because you should see the amount of drugs that they stop. That means that 60% is coming in. A safer border is a safer Pennsylvania so we believe that if we go and work with them and understand the drug trade better and the resources that they have so that we can all combine our resources and work better and smarter because you can’t just stand out on the street, as in the past, and take the dealers off the street. You have to trace it back to the source and then you have to trace it back to the other source. So the drugs are coming up from Mexico, they’re going to California or New Mexico or they are going up to Arizona. They are being repackaged and sent immediately over to Pennsylvania. So that’s a frightening, that’s a frightening realization. So the amount of drugs coming into PA… it’s a huge issue.
The prescription pills use is a huge issue in Pennsylvania because a lot of times prescription pill users then turn into heroin users. They can’t afford the prescription pills anymore. They are not readily available to them and they immediately turn to heroin because it’s not just a good of a high but it’s cheaper and easier to get. It’s more readily accessible. So that contributes to the heroin problem. The biggest threat in the years past was that we didn’t work together and the people refused to believe the enormity of the problem. I think that we did a great job in educating the legislature and educating the public about, get your head out of the sand. This is a problem and we are not going to solve it unless you see it first. And they did. They gave us the $3 million for the Mobile Street Crimes Unit. But then we got together and normally law enforcement doesn’t play well together. We said who cares who does the press conference; who cares who gets the credit. We don’t care. We need you to work with us because this is our plan and they were just so grateful that politics didn’t play a role in it any longer and we just wanted to get the job done. The locals trust us now and the locals say how great it is to work together again. I think that is a great accomplishment. But we have taken a lot of drugs off the street. We’ve taken a lot of drug trafficking organizations off the street in one year. The examples of these cartels and the organizations that they have is scary and we have dismantled a lot of them and I think that that is a great accomplishment.
Is the Drug Problem unique to Pennsylvania?
No, it’s not unique to Pennsylvania. I think Pennsylvania was just behind in allowing themselves to believe that it was here. When I first asked for the money for the Mobile Street Crimes Unit and started talking about the drug trafficking organizations. So not only did I have to fight for the money and come up with a better way of combatting these DTOs, but I had to convince people that there was a problem first. I had to educate them and convince them it was a problem before they could then move on and say okay well let’s fix the problem. But I also think we have made good strides because the legislature really gets that this is not just an enforcement problem. This is an education problem, it’s enforcement and its treatment. And you have to have those three rungs of that triangle or you are not going to solve the problem. You only have two, it’s going to slip out through the treatment side. You don’t educate kids, well you know what, too late. We don’t want to wait until they become an addict or a dealer. We want to get them before that to stop so there’s not a huge amount of people in rung number two. So they see that and somebody asked me the question, well, we have the treatment services in the other day and they were arguing for more money and you’re saying you need more money; you’re taking the money off the treatment. I said, oh no, you give them their money. They need it. They deserve every dime of it. They need their money. But I need money too because this is the only way it’s going to work.
In our first year too, we expanded our education and outreach department. We have crossed trained all of our agents in every area; in senior reviews and internet and cyber safety and in narcotics and in gun, you know, straw purchasing. And they have spread out and they have blanketed this Commonwealth. We updated all of our materials. When I first went to see a presentation, they were talking to kids about straw purchasing and Lynne Abraham was on the video. Scared straight doesn’t work with kids anymore. So we partnered with universities and said, tell us how to get the kids now. They’re digital now; you have 15 seconds, how do we get to them; how do we trap them; how do we make sure that we are getting into their minds. And we have updated all of our materials and I think that they’re much more effective. But that’s because I believe that education is the key to prevention and I’d rather prevent than just react. So we’ve made that another key component of this office.
What can the public do to assist in the prevention and/or detection of these crimes?
They can first realize that these crimes are out there. They can realize that they are a part of the solution; that this is not just a law enforcement problem. With our limited resources, we really can’t do it on our own and they have to realize that they have to get involved; that they can go to community meetings and they can understand what a drug house looks like and how they can spot a drug house. And when they know what to do, who to call, that it could be anonymous and things like that. But they have to get involved. And they have to start calling the tips in when they are a witness to a crime. Philadelphia has a big problem that people won’t step up to the plate; they won’t show up for court and testify because they are too afraid of retaliation. So our office also has a line item that it’s a pass through but it’s the witness relocation program. A lot of it goes to Philly to make sure that the witnesses show up. We as prosecutors can’t do anything without the witnesses. So they have to show up; they have to be a part of the system.
It seems to me you hear more about the arrests for heroin and sale of prescription drugs. Is it more prevalent? Is there a greater focus from your office or is it both?
I can’t say whether there is a greater focus because I can honestly tell you I don’t know what the past administrations have done. So I’m not going to compare us to them. I will tell you that it is, it is a major focus of this office. I think with our new Mobile Street Crimes Unit that it has become more of a focus. We have a diversion unit that deals with the prescription drug abuse but it goes to the health care aspect of it. So we go to hospitals and pharmacies and doctors who are overprescribing. So we’re not just taking the users off the street. We are also taking the pill pushers off the street and so we’re combatting it on a couple different of levels. But I, I think that we have done an incredible job in the last couple of months of combatting this. There is so much more to go and we’ll never be able to sit back and say, well, the war is done; we’re good. You also have to keep fighting it.
What are the issues that plague Pennsylvania and specifically the focus or priorities of your Child Predator section?
Well you say it exactly. It is making sure that we stop child predators and we have travelers. About 40% of all child predators are travelers. We had two in one week in just Scranton alone. And a traveler’s a guy or a woman, mostly guys, who think they are going to meet either a girl or a young boy for the purposes of illegal sexual activity. And, of course, we’re sitting there waiting for them and we take them down. Human trafficking is also a problem in Pennsylvania. It’s across the nation. It’s an international problem. We work with our international partners in making sure that we combat it. But we also look for live victims in the child pornography. They do tagging and we work with the Center for Missing Children and we work with them to make sure that these kids who are portrayed in these pornography videos, that we try and find them so that we can save them.