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When crack first hit, the author was guarding the gates to the city.

In ’86 and ’87, the first couple of cases I worked were interdiction cases. We locked people up coming down on the train from New York City. They had the vials. Small $5 and $10 vials. New Yorkers were coming down south to Washington and the Carolinas and Virginia trying to introduce the drug into the neighborhoods.

When I first looked at it, I didn’t know what it was. I had an idea: It looked like rock candy to me. If you laid it on a table, some kid might pick it up and eat it. We never had it here—we never had it on the streets. Then it was everywhere.

I remember one of the first cases—we got a guy with 700 or 800 vials of crack cocaine. The guy was coming down from New York City. He didn’t have a clue as to where he was going. He had 700 vials in his pocket. He was going somewhere in Northwest to set up a little shop and get rid of it. He probably paid maybe $1,000 to $1,400. He would be making a $6,000 to $7,000 profit in a couple of days. Pretty good dude. He seemed like just a kid who wanted to make a lot of money and not work for it. He was sorry he did it, wished he never did it. I think that was the second or third time he had come down here.

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Guys will do funny things when they walk off a train or a bus. You know, they try to look at the ground, not look at you. Then, when they realize you are the police, they can’t stop looking at you. They can pick out a cop. They start looking over their shoulders. Then you ID yourself and have a conversation.

We’re not the state troopers pulling up behind you—we are normal people. The fear factor—we try to eliminate that by being polite, by not having all the police insignia. You don’t see guns hanging out. We don’t intimidate people. In other words, we’re not telling you what to do. Everything that we’re doing for an interview, we ask permission: “Can I talk to you?” “Can I search your bag?” Everything is permission.

These couriers, even though they think they’re the smartest people in the world, they got something to lose. They don’t know if somebody called us from New York or Miami. They don’t know if we have been investigating them. Just like anybody else, the normal guy who gets off the train is nervous a little bit because he’s lost. I’m not saying we haven’t talked to a lot of people that looked pretty good. That happens to older people and youth. They at least have a destination. When these guys get off the train, they don’t have a clue. One guy told us he was going to 145th Street.

You ask, “Who you visiting?”

“My mother,” they’ll say.

“Where does your mother live at?”

“I don’t know. I got to call her up. She got to pick me up. She just moved down here a year ago.”

“You been here before?”

“A couple of times.”

“What’s her name?”

“Uh… Uh…”

You don’t want to get involved in long conversations. This is not a drunk-driving case. Then you pop the big one: “You got drugs in the bag?”

By the end of ’88, the amounts that were coming in became larger. Every case we made was an ounce of crack or more. That’s all we saw. We didn’t see any other drug. We were making a case every day. We locked up two females from a bus—they had 6 pounds of cocaine. They didn’t say anything. They came off the bus; they took two separate directions. Each one had 3 pounds of crack cocaine. Down from New York, they were heading for Southeast. They didn’t say a word to us. They went to court and pleaded guilty and took a 10-year sentence. Not a word. They were dedicated to somebody.

The funny thing with the couriers is: all different ages. College kids. Housewives. The majority are 18 to 24. But we saw all ages carrying it. We locked up a guy from Chicago, a 55-year-old white guy. We locked up all ethnic groups: Spanish, white, black. Guys tried to hide the drugs everywhere—in a pair of socks, in ham sandwiches, underneath fish, in their crotch area.

All I did was watch people. You just pick up things. Like anything. Like any job.

The youngest person we caught was a 13-year-old girl. She was a little girl, a chubby girl. She kinda looked lost. But what attracted us to her was that she was walking about 15 paces in front of this big guy. Every step she took, he would take. If she turned right, he would turn right. If she turned left, he would turn left. What we decided to do was go and talk to her, and we did.

In a shoebox, after we got consent to search her bag, was a bunch of cocaine. The guy just walked on. We then had a couple of other cops approach him. We looked at his feet—about size 14. The box was for Reeboks, size 14. He was wearing Reeboks. Eventually, we were able to link them together.

She was scared. She was only a kid. We eventually got a statement from her. She was coming from New York with the crack. Her mother picked her up. She ended up doing well, I understand. CP

Sgt. John Brennan works in the Metropolitan Police Department’s Major Narcotics Branch. He told this story to Washington City Paper Staff Writer Jason Cherkis.