Dateline: QUEENS February 24, 1998:
Queens Narcotics cops seized drugs with a street value of more than a
quartermillion dollars from an apartment in Astoria. Two men were arrested and
charged with a variety of drugrelated crimes.
It began when a U.S. Customs agent in Miami became suspect of a package that arrived
from Ecuadorheaded for Astoria. The package was intercepted by Customs agents who
were tipped off that something was wrong by the obsolete video format. The agents tested
it and it was found to contain an estimated 10 pounds of cocaine stashed inside 14 Beta
cassette tapes. Queens Narcotics cops obtained a search warrant for the place of
destination of the package and the "sting" was set.
Posing as a delivery man, an undercover cop delivered the package to two men at the
location, as team of cops from the Queens North Narcotics division prepared to move in.
The cops raided the apartment and seized the tapes which had been stashed, moments
after the delivery, in two separate closets in a basement at the location.
Working with outside law enforcement agencies, Queens Narcotics cops are going places
theyve never been, to take back the streets.
Dateline: QUEENS February 16, 1998:
Cops posing as drug dealers arrested six people in a playground in Corona, Queens. The
arrests were made in Linden Park after the suspects purchased unspecified quantities of
drugs from the Queens Narcotics cops.
The "Reverse Sting" is just one in a series of new strategies that are being
employed by todays new breed of NYPD Narcotics cops, as the citys new War on
Drugs kicks off in Queens.
Identify, Investigate, Dismantle
In and out of uniform, Queens cops
are locking up drug users and abusers.
Its the battle cry of the NYPDs new Drug Initiative an unprecedented
escalation of the citys war on drugs.
The new Narcs will work whenever the drug dealers work, police officials said.
Theyll be out on the street whenever and wherever the drug dealers are.
New tactics employed by cops in the Initiative will also include:
Information-gathering - tapping confidential informants and debriefing prisoners
to learn the inner structure of drug gangs. The cops will identify gang members and carry
out "ambitious attacks" on organized gang drug trafficking operations.
Dismantling of organizations that supply the drugs often with murderous
Police Commissioner Howard Safir said that 80 percent of all homicides in New York City
are drug-related. Between 50 and 80 percent of people arrested by city cops have heroin,
cocaine or marijuana in their system at the time of arrest, Safir said.
Queens residents can expect to see far more flack-jacketed cops with shotguns
"RAM" commanders banging down doors to execute warrants and bring
in parole violators and other fugitives.
The new strategy will leave cops in targeted, drug-infested areas for the long
haul. More of the narcotics cops will patrol in uniform, giving the targeted areas
additional police presence.
Police officials said the department realizes that the departments 90-day
rotation former of Narcotics cops was a mistake, because the drug dealers and
crimes associated with their presence, came back as soon as the cops pulled out.
Both uniformed and plainclothes cops will sniff-out and padlock bodega
"drug stores," apartment drug sites and other businesses that deal in drugs. The
cops will work with search warrants in-hand, and will utilize wiretaps and other
information-gathering devices to make their case before they make an arrest.
The cops will also focus on targeted schools with drug dealing conditions.
"Our children should be able to walk to and from school without being harassed or
confronted by drug dealers," Safir said.
Along with street arrests, police will gather information and shut down indoor
drug trading"anywhere and everywhere," Safir said.
BuyAndBust operations will continue, escalated and more frequent.
Utilizing confidential informants, the cops will gather information on money
laundering locations, "Beeper" stores and bogus "real estate"
storefronts to determine long-time strategy they will use to dismantle the operations.
Quality of Life enforcement will play heavily in the new strategy. Safir said
that, along with identifying parole violators, bail-jumpers and wanted felons, the Quality
of Life arrests net a significant amount of drugs and drug paraphernalia found on
the people arrested for "minor" crimes.
Prostitution arrests and closure of known houses of prostitution. These arrests
account for a "hefty" amount of drugs seized from the women at the time
of arrest, or in the houses during subsequent warrant searches.
Queens community activists and borough residents said they will take a
"wait and see" attitude before they rush to judge the new Initiative.
Residents hope the new enforcement will do more to eliminate drugs than its predecessor
The execution of rookie cop Eddie Byrne on February 26, 1988 led to the creation of the
original NYPD Tactical Narcotics Teams (TNT) in the spring of 1998 (See Sidebar).
The TNT teams burst into drug-infested neighborhoods like a shock wave, staying in
defined "zones of operation" for 90-day periods, during which they netted
thousands of arrests and seized multitudes of property from drug dealers and users. The
teams arrests crammed borough courtrooms with drug cases, as the narcotics cops
swept through Queens most drug-plagued communities.
The "Buy and Bust" became synonymous with TNT. The technique sat at the heart
of the TNT drug strategy. In a Buy and Bust, an undercover officer buys drugs, as the
transaction is witnessed by another cop from a "safe" distance. After a
specified number of buys by the plainclothes cops, the team commander obtains a search
warrant and moves in to make arrests and seize property and drugs. Buy and Bust operations
are the most life-threatening form of enforcement employed by narcotics cops, law
enforcement officials said.
While the TNT approach received excellent grades across the board for its effective
methods of arrests and seizures, community leaders complained that the 90-day rotation
schedules of the narcotics cops set a schedule for drug dealers. The cops would infiltrate
a known drug area for three months, then move on and the drug dealers would return
to their old "territory."
"The strategy was as foolish as it was impractical," said Christopher Stone,
president of the Vera Institute of Justice. The non-profit group published a study in 1992
on the TNT Operations which stated that the enforcement was "predictable" and
did little to rub out the drug trade for good.
Local community groups and Community Boards complained that TNT enforcement
"chased" the drug trade out of one area (while the narcotics cops were there),
but the dealers took up their trade in new neighborhoods usually just across the
For example, when the original TNT started enforcement in neighborhoods in southeast
Queens, the drug dealers moved their operations into South Ozone Park. It took police and
community activists several years to rid that community of the drug trade or at
least most of it.
The truth is, officials said, the original TNT produced volume arrests, property
"The numbers were phenomenal," Stone said. "But the TNT teams did very
little to stop the drug trade cold."
George Delis, District Manager of Community Board 1 in Astoria said that in his
opinion, "The TNT experience wasnt a complete failure.
"It was a start," he added. "The problem was, it was never
The other cops called him "Rookie." Police Officer
Eddie Byrne was just four days past his 22nd birthday when he sat guarding the home of a
man who witnessed and spoke up against drug dealers who ravaged a Jamaica neighborhood.
Byrne sat alone in a patrol car on the frigid night of February 26, 1988, a
"canine cage" blocking the young cops view of the mean street behind him.
So Byrne couldnt see the beat up yellow Dodge in his rear-view mirror as it rolled
up toward the end of Inwood Street, his assassins inside.
Suddenly, the face of a crackhead appeared at Byrnes passenger window.
"Aggghh!" the face screamed. "Aggghh!" Byrne reached for his holstered
gun in his lap. He never got a chance to use it. Another crackhead, standing at the
drivers side of the car held a nickel-plated revolver roughly eight inches from
Byrnes head. In the flash of five shots that stripped Queens - and the city of
its innocence, Eddie Byrne was dead - executed on the orders of imprisoned druglord
Lorenzo "Fat Cat" Nichols. And suddenly, crack was everybodys problem.
"This was an order, not for the murder of a particular police officer," said
Lt. Phillip Panzarella (then-head of the Queens Homicide Squad). "But of any officer,
for the sole purpose of delivering a message of death to anyone who opposed Nichols."
The three men who planned and executed Byrnes murder did so on jailhouse orders
from Nichols, in retaliation for a jail sentence he had received a few days before. Todd
Scott, Scott Cobb and David McClary are behind bars now. They received a total contract
fee of $6,000 from Nichols for the cop murder - thats $2,000 each.
Eddie Byrnes murder touched the core of the city, setting in motion the most
intense drug enforcement strategy up to that point in the citys history.
Byrnes death would not be in vain, officials declared. Enter the War On Drugs, Part
I. The NYPD Tactical Narcotics Teams (TNT) were established - a legacy to Eddie Byrne.
Ten years later, city cops are pulling out all the stops in a new, unprecedented
escalation of the War on Drugs. The TNT approach was successful at removing drugs and
dealers from city streets, but it stopped short of leaving an area secure that the scourge
would not return when the cops left.
There are no memorials for Eddie Byrne - no scholarships for drug free students,
interdiction or recovery programs that bear his name. But his legacy lives on, his heart
still beating to the rhythm of hundreds of narcotics cops who currently fight the war on
drugs. The 1998 Drug Initiative isnt just the NYPDs war, or our war. Its
Eddie Byrnes war, and we should never forget that.