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Newark's Top Cop Says the Answer to Drugs Isn't More Police and Jails

When a reporter and photographer drove along Route 1 recently, they discovered the lost heart of what an interstate highway used to be: a road with character, humanity, spirit, and some crucial problems - just like the United States. Today they are traveling the Mid-Atlantic portion, from North Carolina to New York City.

'YOU solve the drug problem by solving the problems of education, of jobs, of housing," said an agitated William R. Celester, the new police director of Newark, N.J.Hired away from the Boston police department five months ago, the energetic 48-year-old Celester has had an ambitious three-year plan to change police operations in Newark. But at the mention of drugs, he went into orbit. "Building more jails [and] putting more police on the streets is not the answer to drugs," he said. Then he lowered his voice, the full weight of his professional experience and his troubled youth resonating in his words. "George Bush and his guys have to stop saying more police and jails are the answers," he said. "No local police department can stop the flow of drugs. It has to come from the federal government. They're the only ones who can go across country [borders] and go state to state. They have the money and the manpower to go after the big shots." Celester looks for a kind of urban Marshall Plan to rescue inner cities, the kind of plan that helped restore European economies after World War II. "Bush has to put more money into the cities, into drug programs," he said. "He should make it mandatory that drug education be part of school curriculum beginning in the first grade. It's just as important as reading, writing, and arithmetic." What the police can do to help, said Celester, is become more community oriented. "I want the police officer on the street to work with the community," he said, "to be tight as a glove with the community." In five months, Celester has put 75 percent of the police force in the neighborhoods, changed the curriculum at the police academy so that representatives from community organizations address the classes, sent out more police cars onto the streets, and returned detectives to the precincts. He also bought 10 slow-moving surplus jeeps from the Post Office for police use in the neighborhoods. "I want precinct captains to be able to deliver services to the people," Celester said. "I want them to know not just how to catch a drug dealer, but to know all the alternatives in dealing with drug-dependent people." Celester, a high school dropout and former gang member in his youth, wants the police youth aid bureau to know every youth organization in town and direct kids with problems to the appropriate agencies. "Families are being torn apart by drugs," he said. "Not being able to stop it right away is painful to me. Seeing kids ruining their lives for small drug deals is hard to watch. "But we're trying to change this by connecting them with community agencies. The police have to be the catalyst in this. Its not coming from anywhere else."

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