Friday, December 20, 2013

One out of three ain't bad

Well, no. No and no. There's no indication that alligators have become "popular guards for drug dealers," and no "authorities" paint this as a "growing trend." I suppose it's technically a "crime" story, in the Elmore Leonard sense of people bumbling through illegal stuff on their way to something more interesting, but basically we have a breathless 1A trender that falls apart when you start pulling at the threads. So let's:

Looking for more bite than bark?

Drug dealers, long associated with aggressive dogs like pit bulls, are of late opting for a more cold-blooded accomplice to protect their business interests: the alligator.

Getting an idea of what sort of evidence ought to follow?

The scaly version of the guard dog isn’t showing up just in drug dens near its native Southern swamplands, police are finding the reptiles in raids from Oakland to Philadelphia.

And work on the commas while you're at it.

Last month, during a raid in Baltimore, police found three small alligators while searching the apartment of a suspected dealer. That case was among a smattering of reports linking alligator ownership to drug dealers seeking to guard their stashes or simply send a message.

Yes, "smattering" is a clue. But what do the "authorities" have to say?

... “I think a lot of this comes back to the desire to own something exotic as well as the power of controlling a fierce animal. By keeping it in your control, you are saying something about yourself as an individual,” said Jeffrey Hyson, a professor at St. Joseph’s University in Philadelphia who specializes in the history of zoos. “I would imagine for some people who have stuff they’d like to guard, a pit bull is great but a gator is even better.”

Well and good, but:

1) It sounds like he's answering a "why" question, not a "what" or "how many" question.
2) When you ask a prof to comment on a trend, it's really up to you to have established the trend's existence. This guy isn't on your comps committee. He isn't supposed to affirm the merits of your research methods. Leading to:
3) What does this have to do with what "authorities" say?

Anyway, let's get back to the cops:

An anonymous tip led a team of tactical officers from the Anne Arundel County Police Department to a trailer home in Jessup, Md., in search of drugs one early morning in November 2012. What they encountered inside the home was out of the ordinary in a big, angry way.

A 3-foot American alligator in a walk-in closet snapped and hissed at officers as they forced their way through a bedroom door. ... Just feet away from the angry gator, officers found 5 ounces of marijuana, police said.

Well, there's your big-time dealer.

“I don’t know if it was guarding the drugs. The owner said it was his pet,” said the detective, who agreed to speak on the condition that he not be named because he works undercover. “Definitely if someone saw that they’d think twice about doing something to that guy.”

Little G’s owner ... disputed the notion that he had the 4-year-old alligator to serve as a guard. "That’s crazy. You can’t train them. ... They are not very wise animals.”

OK, maybe there is such a thing as too much Elmore Leonard, but do you think it might have been a good idea to run the heds by this guy before putting them at the top of 1A?

... The curious phenomenon of drug dealers owning alligators could be faddish or coincidental, but it has some logic behind it, wildlife researchers say.

“The predominate way people think of alligators is as this fierce man-eating predator,” said Mark Barrow, chairman of Virginia Tech’s history department who is studying the cultural history of the American alligator. “I’m not terribly surprised that some folks may want to have these things to be cool.”

Which sounds kind of like -- "faddish"? Or even "coincidental"?

... Scott Giacoppo, vice president of the Washington Humane Society, said criminals have long kept pets for protection or intimidation.

“It is a really common thing for drug dealers to have animals for smuggling and so forth,” he said.

Mr. Giacoppo recalled that, as a special state police officer investigating animal cruelty in Boston in the early 1990s,* young street dealers would hide vials of crack cocaine beneath the collars of their dogs.

Similar scenarios have been reported in drug raids in which police found narcotics in proximity to the alligators.

People will keep the drugs in bags and sink them into the [alligator’s] tank so they have to pull them out with strings,” said Adam Fink, a lead keeper responsible for reptiles at the Oakland Zoo, which took custody of an alligator and a caiman by way of police drug raids this year.

Is it so wrong to ... still be waiting for some cops to tell us it's a growing trend? Or even a trend at all?

• Two 5-foot alligators found purportedly guarding 15 marijuana plants in an Olympia, Wash., home in November 2012 when police responded to a report of gunshots.
• A 3-foot alligator turned up along with cocaine and marijuana during a February raid targeting a Latin Kings street gang member suspected in a shooting that injured a Chicago police officer.
• A caged alligator found in the Philadelphia suburb of Norristown, Pa., during the August 2011 arrest of a suspected drug dealer who kept the reptile in his living room to intimidate customers.

... The underground market for alligators has made it difficult to determine just how many are being kept as pets.

 ... Images of alligators in popular culture — including a pair of leashed alligators featured on the cover of singer Beyonce’s 2006 “Ring the Alarm” album and more recent television shows such as “Gator Boys” depicting life as an alligator trapper — might have renewed interest in the animals. But zoologists generally believe the ease with which exotic reptiles can be acquired online is the biggest factor in their popularity.

I'm trying to be charitable here, but it sounds like the "smattering" is up to seven cases nationwide in the last couple years -- not exactly what you'd call "popular" in the sense that SUVs are popular. And it's kind of hard to argue a chicken-and-egg relationship when drugs and scary reptiles seem in many cases to be descended from the same Chicken of Cluelessness. I'm still waiting to hear whether anybody asked the question implied in the deck: Hey, authorities, do you see a growing trend here? (Much less, as the online hed claims, whether "cops say" alligators are becoming "the new pit bulls.")

Because the WashTimes is a party organ,** it's easy to fall into a rut of thinking that party business is all it does. (For some of the audience, of course, all stories are political, hence comments on this one like "Just another case of 'Obama's relatives' trying to show us all how big and bad they can be without actually getting jobs or making anything of themselves.") Every now and then, it's just a newspaper -- putting silly stories at the top of the front because, by the time they get that far, nobody wants to be a spoilsport.

* Have entries for Misattached Modifier of the Week closed yet?
** Disclosure-wise, if you didn't know already, Your Editor worked there back when it was Ronald Reagan's favorite paper. As did some regular readers.

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