By PHILLIP BANTZ
The Keene Sentinel: March 17, 2009
A big drug problem is festering beneath the surface of this little city, police say.
Cocaine and heroin appear to be flowing into Keene at a higher rate than in previous years, although police aren’t exactly sure why.
“We are seeing more of it,” Keene police Lt. Peter S. Thomas said. “It’s just hard for me to say if it’s from enforcement efforts or if there’s more of it out there or if people are just being sloppy.”
The spate of bank heists that plagued the city last year and many of the property crimes that frustrate residents and police on a daily basis can be traced to local drug addicts, Thomas said.
“A lot of our breaking into vehicles and into homes is all related to the drug activity in the area,” he said.
The bulk of the drugs in Keene are coming from nearby Fitchburg, Mass., Thomas said. Other large suppliers include Boston and Hartford, Conn., he said.
For drug dealers based out of larger cities, Keene represents an untapped market, because competition from other dealers is weak and buyers are willing to shell out more money.
“The prices are drastically greater here than in Boston,” Thomas said. “You pay two or three times more here (for a drug) than what you’d pay in Boston, because of the options you have there and the distance” dealers have to drive to deliver their goods to Keene.
Moving past the dealers to focus on the suppliers
Two suspected street-level drug dealers have been arrested in Keene since late February. Both men are accused of trafficking drugs into the city.
“We have also made some arrests that you’re not aware of because they’re part of ongoing investigations,” Thomas said.
“We’re looking to move past the street dealers to their suppliers.”
A weeklong drug-dealing investigation involving a single suspect can consume more than 70 working hours.
“If an officer’s working 40 hours on street patrols, it doesn’t leave a lot of time to devote to this sort of thing,” Thomas said.
City police officials say the department is already stretched thin, and the number of drug investigators is expected to dwindle this summer. That may mean less time to devote to drug investigations.
“With manpower issues looming as they are, we may have to scale back a little bit,” Thomas said. “We’re already short one guy and we’re going to be short another guy in July with a retirement. When we have shortages we must take people from other positions and put them on patrol instead of doing investigative work.”
Police say they broke up drugs-for-guns trade
The latest publicized arrest in the city’s drug battle came Friday, when Raymond Wolfe, 32, of Boston was arrested during a traffic stop.
Detectives received a tip that Wolfe was coming into the Elm City to trade drugs for handguns, and began investigating him about a week before his arrest, Thomas said.
“You get somebody like that, we’re not going to mess around with him,” he said. “We want them in jail. We don’t want them around firearms.”
Wolfe attempted to swallow a few small bags of crack cocaine and to discard some marijuana before he was arrested, Lt. Eli Rivera said Monday during Wolfe’s arraignment in Keene District Court.
Wolfe has multiple drug-related arrests and convictions out of Massachusetts and Rhode Island, and was sentenced to serve three years in a Bay State prison in 2003, Rivera said in court.
Rivera asked that Wolfe’s bail be set at $50,000 — the judge agreed — after calling him a “danger to society.”
Three weeks before city police closed in on Wolfe, they arrested a man who is also suspected of trafficking cocaine into Keene from Massachusetts.
Naik Howard, 30, was arrested after a monthlong investigation. Like Wolfe, he was picked up during a traffic stop.
Investigators had information that Howard was storing guns at a Citizens Way residence, and city police did not want to confront him there, Thomas said.
“It’s also a timely thing because these guys will change their methods and ways and habits to avoid the police,” he said. “When we receive information, we need to act in a reasonably quick time frame.”
Howard had been bouncing between multiple residences in Keene for about a year before he was arrested, Thomas said. A search of the Citizens Way residence turned up crack cocaine, handguns and rifles, Thomas said.
He said the search also revealed evidence that may lead to the arrests of lower-level drug dealers who were helping Howard.