The Reagan administration's crackdown on illegal drug dealers and organized crime in 12 major cities around the US makes good sense - provided that the program is left in the hands of professional law-enforcement officials and not allowed to become a short-term political public relations effort, as is often the temptation in such anticrime efforts. In this regard, it is encouraging that the model for the FBI, Drug Enforcement Administration, and Customs Service agents involved in the nationwide operation will to a large extent be the recent crackdown in southern Florida, where some 300 federal agents have targeted drug kingpins. That drive is culminating in a string of in-dictments.
The new antidrug campaign will differ somewhat from the Florida operation in that the administration will ask Congress to provide funding to hire new agents to replace those persons assigned to the 12-city probe. But it is similar to anticrime task forces initiated by both the Nixon and Carter administrations. Unfortunately, those earlier programs proved somewhat ineffective, in part because they were not sustained over a long period of time.
That the US drug problem remains a formidable challenge is attested to by the fact that more and more drugs once considered exotic or common only to the most hardened users are now finding their way not only into the streets of big cities but into suburban communities, small towns, and the hands of middle-class Americans. That means extensive distribution systems are having to be created to move the drugs to their users.
Law-enforcement agencies must be relentless in pursuing persons who traffic in such a destructive commodity. At the same time local public officials, churches, schools, and neighborhood groups must combat the apathy and tolerance that enable a drug culture to arise in a community in the first place.