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Special Issues » The Addiction Issue

A look at the dumb drug-related mistakes that criminals make

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Pay attention to the drug arrests around Charleston, and you'll start to notice patterns emerging: specific street corners where people are getting busted weekly with crack cocaine, all-too-easy hiding places for people's weed stashes, and signature dumb moves that lead to dealers and users getting caught.

In North Charleston, it's relatively easy to visualize where the drug arrests are happening. Since September 2010, the city's police department has been sharing its crime statistics with RAIDS Online (Regional Analysis and Information Data Sharing), a public information service that marks arrests on a Google map and organizes them by date, address, and type of crime. Set the date range for the past year and you can see, for instance, that there has been a heavy concentration of drug arrests in the area just north of where Cosgrove Avenue crosses Rivers. Check it out for yourself at raidsonline.com.

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The data is a little bit trickier to mine in Charleston, however. The police department there only started its online data-sharing program, Police to Citizen (charleston-sc.gov/p2c), in September 2011, and it doesn't let you narrow down the data by type of crime or search for a date range longer than 30 days. It's useful for things like printing out crash reports from car accidents, but if you want to get the skinny on crime problems in your neighborhood, it takes some doing.

Since the City Paper doesn't want to label a neighborhood as a meth mecca without the data to back it up, we've decided to point out the most common mistakes that the Holy City's drug-using crooks make. Please keep in mind that we know full well that plenty of powder cocaine is exchanged downtown behind closed doors, but the people who are most often arrested tend to be carrying crack or marijuana and they tend to be in their cars or on the street. These are the most common ways they get caught:

• They carry illegal drugs while in a car with a busted tail light, an improperly lit license plate, or a lousy driver at the wheel. A familiar template for drug arrest reports goes like this: "R/O XXXXX [that is, the responding officer] was on patrol when he witnessed a '70s-model Buick Skylark with a paper license tag in the rear window perform a right turn without activating a turn signal. R/O turned on his blue lights, and the car pulled over. When R/O asked the driver/suspect for his license and registration, he made furtive glances toward the center console compartment. R/O noticed smoke was pouring out of the open window, and the interior of the car had a dank smell consistent with that of marijuana."

• They ride their bikes at night without safety lights while carrying an illicit substance in their pockets. Again, as with the car problems, the city's bike safety laws give a cop a perfectly legitimate reason to stop you and search your pockets if you're looking nervous.

• They make drug deals in public. On Dec. 30, two men at a bar in West Ashley walked into a bathroom stall together to make a coke deal. The bouncer on duty happened to be taking a potty break, and he thought something fishy was going down, so he looked over the stall door and saw one man handing the other one a baggie full of white powder. One of the men sprinted for the door and escaped; the other did not.

• They draw the attention of their neighbors. On New Year's Eve, police got multiple calls from people who said there was drug activity happening on their block. When the cops arrived, they found two men huddled on the street corner, one of whom was carrying a pipe and $40 worth of crack.

• They admit that they are holding. You're not doing yourself any favors by calling the marijuana in your pocket "just a little weed." It doesn't matter how much you have on you, it's still illegal.

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