The American crack epidemic refers to a period between 1984 and the mid 1990’s where there was a surge in the shipment of crack cocaine and other illicit drugs in major cities across the United States

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The American crack epidemic refers to a period between 1984 and the mid 1990’s where there was a surge in the shipment of crack cocaine and other illicit drugs in major cities across the United States. According to the United States Drug Enforcement Agency between 1984 and 1990 there was a dramatic increase in how many Americans were addicted to these illegal substances (Drug Free World Organization). For example, in 1985, the number of individuals who admitted using cocaine on a routine basis had jumped from 4.2 million to 5.8 million people. A major reason why this had happened is because crack-cocaine was easier to produce, sold in smaller quantities, and in turn drug dealers were allowed to sell them for a larger profit. More specifically, during the crack epidemic New York City minority groups and lower income neighborhood neighborhoods had experienced a tremendous amount of criminal activity. To support this, in 1984 and 1994 the homicide rate for African American’s more than doubled (Fryer Jr. P.1). Also, since crack-cocaine created a strong dependency among in its users thousands of African American New Yorkers were abandoned by their parents as toddlers and preschoolers spent their childhood being transferred to many foster homes (McDonald P.1). To counter violent criminal activity the New York Police Department’s has enacted a harsher policy on cracking down on smaller misdemeanors that often led to even larger felonies. Overall, this research aims to investigate what it was like being a New York City Police Officer in the Crack Epidemic and how their philosophies, experiences, or feeling have carried on into today.

First, I interviewed my Brazilian Jujitsu professor Michael Codella, retired Detective Sergeant Narcotics New York City Police Officer who played a major role in cleaning up drug infested Alphabet City, Manhattan. Michael Codella has worked in the DEA, Secret Service Task Force, Special Frauds Squad, Missing Person’s Squad and several other prestigious units. Additionally, Codella has earned the nickname “Rambo” because of his relentless style in pursuing drug dealers and actually helped arrest one of the leaders of New York City’s main operations “Davey Blue Eyes”. Knowing Codella ever since I was in high school made finding someone to interview all the more easier as he immediately felt comfortable with me and we were able to tackle on some of the harsher issues at hand right on. For instance, Michael Codella was able to open up about the lines he had to cross as a police officer to ensure an arrest of a drug dealer. As a result, I was not only able to gain a unique perspective of the crack epidemic from someone who had lived through it first hand, but of different governmental agencies as well. Secondly, I was able to speak to Rita Codella, Michael Codella’s wife who was a former police retired corrections officer. With that being said, it does help that not only was Rita Codella in charge of taking in these criminals to jail once they were convicted of a crime, but was able to see the common offences between inmates and why there was such an influx of convictions because of drug activity. This is crucial, as I was able to seek out many different sides of the Crime Epidemic where Michael Codella served as a law enforcement officer primarily seeking out these individuals who had possession or was selling an illicit substance whereas Rita Codella witnessed how individuals were treated and prosecuted after the fact. Thirdly, I interviewed a current police officer who did serve during the Crack Epidemic and is a current detective as well in Jim Kelly. As a present day law enforcement official Jim Kelly has a unique perspective in the sense that he is enacting today’s policy on combating drugs and has an extensive amount of knowledge on what it was like during the Crack Epidemic. Most importantly, Jim Kelly will be able to provide a contrast between both time periods in New York City. I consulted with law enforcement officers who played a prominent role in the crack epidemic to someone enforcing New York City’s drug policies today. In other words, I am interviewing three people who had seen a different side and era of New York City’s history respectively.
Due to Michel Codella and Rita Codella being the owners of Codella Academy where I train Brazilian Jujitsu I was able to set up each interview in their office. Luckily, because Jim Kelly happens to be a student under Michael Codella all three participants had agreed to meet in the same location and time. On March 31st between 2:30 and 3:30 I met with Michael Codella, Rita Codella, and Jim Kelly in Codella Academy 3775 Victory Boulevard, Staten Island individually for 10 minutes. Prior to these interview I had formulated a list of 11 questions that I would ask consisting of what was your experience during the crack epidemic era, were you affected in any way, how significant were these experiences to you, did you feel marginalized as a law enforcement officer and do you remember any distinct criminal or person during that time. Not only questions were being tested at a given purely for the fact that some of them were answered within previous questions. Despite Michael Codella, Rita Codella and Jim Kelly preferring not to be voice recorded during our interviews I decided to record the data they provided by writing notes by hand. To counteract this disadvantage my brother, a court stenographer, who specializes in a writing method that increases speed and brevity was in charge of documenting what my interviewees had said. In the end, this was extremely beneficial to my investigation as my brother wrote down every single thing that was said and highlighted some of the interviews most vital parts. On the other hand, I was keeping track of my volunteer’s facial movements, body language and overall tone of my interviews. Lastly, after I was finished I sat down Michael, Rita and Jim Kelly to debrief ensuring them that all personal information would remain confidential.


Upon interviewing Michael Codella I had found out being a New York Police Officer during the Crack Epidemic was something he did out of passion and love for his job. Codella had cited that “being a police officer and battling the drug trade as a cop in the Lower East Side of Manhattan fulfilled a need for barely controlled, boiling over excitement that had gnawed at me for as long as I could remember”(Codella Interview). Before my interview I had thought that most law enforcement officials were afraid and even more protective of their surroundings, but Michael Codella acknowledges some sort of pleasure and adrenaline coming from this time period. In addition, Codella points out a huge contrast in how police officers were treated as “Even though, police officers were still vilified people also respected too and realized how much of a risk you are taking when you put that badge on” (Codella Interview). When asked about a particular neighborhood Michael Codella immediately brought up Alphabet City saying it “Grabbed me by the throat and wouldn’t let go, and that was just fine. The neighborhood was a darkly primal and seductive forty-square block stretch of city built on roots going back generations and a history that justified the shape it was in when I got there” (Codella Interview). While on patrol Michael Codella distinctly remembered neighborhoods infested with drug activity in the crack epidemic era as having a certain type of atmosphere suggesting that once you stepped into a particular block you just knew that it was different from the rest enticing law enforcement officials like him to help. Alternatively, there was also a chance that you may not come out with your life intact creating a feeling of adrenaline . When answering this question I could not help but notice Michael Codella’s body language expressing angst in dealing with criminals as he spoke about Alphabet City further supporting that individuals in these areas lived by a different set of morals and behavior. Codella had cited that areas that were hit the hardest during this period of time was a result of a long time accumulation of criminal acts rather than referring to the Crack Epidemic as something that was a long time coming. Another possible reason Codella asserts why the Crack Epidemic might of occurred is “For me it was just part of the American culture to rebel against authority. You had rappers glorifying the gangster lifestyle and encouraging young people to partake in these activities especially a lot of African American and Hispanic children. I’m not saying N.W.A, Biggie Smalls or Jay-Z are the culprit I love their music, but there were multiple amounts of factors leading up the Crack Epidemic whether it was poverty, criminal activity and even culture” (Codella Interview).

Moreover, Michael Codella described the average drug dealer during this crack epidemic as “They had names like School Boy, Macatumba, Londie, ChCha and Animal. They arrived in ticked-out Jeeps, Beamers and Mertz done up in glass. They have leases in the rat-and-roach-infested projects, but own houses in Queens, apartments in Manhattan and second homes in Puerto Rico and Dominican Republic” (Codella Interview). Surprisingly, a majority of the drug dealers Michael Codella had encountered were “Mostly African American coming from poor neighborhoods that were barely midway through their twenties and making stacks of cash so big you don’t count the bills, you weighed them” (Codella Interview). Upon speaking to Codella I had learned that there was certainly a lifestyle attached to criminals in the midst of this era. Even though, drug dealers and criminals appeared to be living in less than aspired conditions they actually had luxurious apartments and cars. Surprisingly, Codella’s experience tells a different story where a majority of drug dealers in the Crack Epidemic led almost double lives. At the end of our interview I had inquired about the famous “Davy Blue Eyes” and Michael responded by stating “Davey testified under oath about the mounds of cash, the guns, the killings and the rest of what it took to run his now collapsed. Davey was finally sentenced to jail for six more years. After he was released in 2001 he vanished off everyone’s radar my guess is that he leveraged witness protection somehow. If that’s true he could be living next door to you” (Codella Interview). Overall, Michael Codella was emphatic about the responsibility he had as a police officer in delivering justice “Whether they wanted it or not and at that time I was not afraid to do it by any means necessarily even if it meant breaking a couple of rules here and there so I felt emotionally attached to every single case and person I came across” (Codella Interview). This was the first of many times Michael Codella had touched upon an obligation he felt to take down drug dealers like “Davey Blue Eyes” and some rules and regulations that went along with being a police officer were casted aside.

On my second interview I spoke to Jim Kelly who was on patrol during the Crack Epidemic and now a detective in the 122nd precinct spoke about present day policing in New York City. Arguably, with social networking and polices in place like Stop and Frisk todays police officers may be under more scrutiny than any other time period. Jim Kelly admitted “At times yes we do get marginalized, but as an officer you are used to it and in fact got a feeling of it’s us against the world” (Jim Kelly Interview). While on patrol Jim Kelly noticed that in the Crack Epidemic “Many African American families were facing a major disadvantage because many of them lived in these poor neighborhoods riddled with crack dealers and were either sucked into the game themselves or soon gained such a strong dependency on it that it ruined them” (Jim Kelly Interview). In contrast to the crack epidemic Jim Kelly who used to be on patrol in Alphabet City like Michael Codella says “Most of Alphaville today resembles Epcot Center, or one of those streets in southern college towns where kids go to get drunk on weekends. The projects are still there and the drugs are still there, but there’s no longer space for a large operation now” (Jim Kelly Interview). For me the most jarring response I had from Jim Kelly was when I asked how different is living during the Crack Epidemic to now and he looked directly into my eyes responding proudly with “There will always be those that need to get high, those that want to get paid to make that possible and I know when I finally retire I’ll shake my head at some instances as I remember what I saw and what I did, I know where I stood then and I know that I will be worthwhile when it comes to combating drug activity” (Jim Kelly Interview). Since Jim Kelly was a New York City Police Officer in the Crack Epidemic as well I was expecting a greater contrast between both eras, however he delivered a message of no matter how hard you try to enforce a law or do right by other citizens there will always be criminals. Similar to Michael Codella, Jim Kelly shared no regrets on his work as a police officer and stood by the actions he made during that time in spite of the dangers and immediate decisions that are faced on duty.

Lastly, in my emotional interview with Michael Codella’s wife Rita, a former correctional facility officer spoke about police officers being afraid during the crack epidemic by responding “Honestly, I think everybody during that time was and I don’t blame any one of them you simply didn’t know what was going to happen of if Michael or myself were coming back home” (Rita Codella Interview). Taking this into consideration Rita Codella has mentioned on numerous occasions that she was extremely thankful in not having her kids during the Crack Epidemic where she spent over 12 hours filing paperwork and trying control fellow prisoners. Being a part of corrections in the Crack Epidemic Rita remembered “A majority of the convictions during that time were of first time offenses of marijuana, crack cocaine and other variations of them as well. Again these sentences only lasted at most maybe seven years so whenever there time was up they would back into the drug trade and I saw the same person again maybe a year or six months later” (Rita Codella Interview). One major factor Rita Codella contributing to New York City becoming an area with criminal activity is at an historical low today is “Housing, transit, corrections and city police officers working under a single chain of command, one that I strongly believe since the Rudy Giuliani administration has held law enforcement officers from the town down like Feds are” (Rita Codella Interview).

In order to fully comprehend the crack epidemic’s significance to law enforcement officials I had to analyze my interviews in depth. For instance, I had to see what role Michael Codella, Rita Codella and Jim Kelly had played during this period, and how they were affected as well. It’s one thing to look at what has been said, however I made it a priority to be extra attentive as to what was the body language and tone of each interview. Furthermore, I had separated individual stories of the crack epidemic and information about particular policies that were enacted during this time into two distinct categories. Combined with my own scholarly research beforehand I was able to catch a bigger picture of how this had affected law enforcement officials personally. Interestingly enough, my brother was a major influence in analytically understanding my interviews as he had a gathered a vast amount of expertise in studying a written and oral testimony. First of all, through my brother’s advice I took into account hand gestures and whether or not my interviewee made contact with me while he or she is speaking.

A common theme I found in my two interviews with Michael Codella and Jim Kelly was that one of the main reasons why they were officers stemmed from a certain amount of responsibility and obligation to arrest other drug dealers. To me, I was very surprised to hear this because my main hypothesis going into these interviews was that the Crack Epidemic was a very difficult time emotionally for police officers and made it question as to why they chose this kind of profession. However, Michael Codella’s experience is a source of pride for him that he go through this time period and was able to make a difference. Speaking with Jim Kelly provided a stark contrast to how neighborhoods like Alphabet City have changed drastically to a place riddled with drugs to one that is safe. Although, Rita Codella was concerned about Michael Codella’s safety she had agreed it was a reality all officers faced during the crack epidemic. Finally, despite the crack epidemic being a very dangerous time for citizens and officers alike Rita, Jim, and Michael had recited their unique experiences being a law enforcement official as a role they don’t regret having helping New York City nor will ever forget.

Work Cited

  1. Codella, Michael (2014) Personal Interview. 31st March (2014)

  2. Codella, Rita (2014) Personal Interview. 31st March (2014)

  3. The Crack Epidemic - The History of Crack Cocaine - Drug-Free World." The Crack Epidemic - The History of Crack Cocaine - Drug-Free World. N.p., n.d. Web. 29 Apr. (2014)

  4. Fryer Jr. Ronald (2006) Measuring Crack Cocaine and Its Impact Date Found: March 31st Date Written: April (2006)

  5. Kelly, Jim. Personal Interview. 31st March (2014)

  6. McDonald, Harriet (2014) How Crack Still Haunts N.Y.C. ." NY Daily News. N.p., n.d. Web. 01 May (2014).

Michael Codella’s Personal Story about a Time in the Crack Epidemic

“Well when I was young, wild, and wearing a badge and a gun in my Alphaville days, I didn’t spend a lot of time marveling at how I managed to keep breathing. There wasn’t any time, or any point, in doing a lot of reflection. Once I’d been off the job for a decade or so I started to think different. Out of the line of fire, it’s only natural to pat yourself down for bullet holes, look back and take stock of the close calls, the good choices and the dumb luck that put me where I am now which is alive and with family friends so close and so real that these crazy years are in the rearview mirror. Not many people have the chance what they’re really capable of at the same time as they accept who they are a d where they came from. I did and I had the time of my life doing it.

It was early summer 1988 my partner Gio and I cruise up the avenue for the umpteenth time today. We were housing cops in our first year assigned to Operation 8, which was a plainclothes task force combating the drug trade. Our patrol was a stretch of public housing that Justice Department statisticians and local junkies both agreed were the retail heroin capital of the world. Most people would look over New York City’s civilian population containing eight million people, but with a badge, a gun and a license to butt in, New York plainclothes police officer never thinks twice about looking at the people who pass them by right in the eye. I remember it was ninety-two degrees and 98 percent humidity according to Peter Franklin on WFAN. Up ahead, looking backing in the rearview mirror was two muscular Hispanic dudes walking together. One had a Bart Simpson T-shirt on. Maybe they were headed for a bodega for a cold soda or a little seven-ounce can of Bud. I think I knew once of them from the Third Street dealing crew. He wasn’t a play or a customer to me he was a neighbor of one of the main dealers who answered to Davey Blue Eyes who by all accounts as the heaviest guy on Avenue D. As I turned onto Fifth Steet a white guy walks down the street with an aluminum baseball, silver with black tape on the handle. My mouth went dry and my partner says to me “Drive back around”. Instead of looping around the block I do another U-Turn, relaxing my hands as the steering wheel spins back into position.
I murmured to Gio “It’s Ted Williams right” and he said “Yeah”. Just off the avenue on Sixth Street the guy with the Bart Simpson shirt convulses on the sidewalk. His head bends sharply away from his neck and his scalp gushes blood into the gutter. The silver bat slashes over the white guy’s head, he takes a deep breath and bring it down on the Hispanic guy’s face with everything he’s got. Blood then sprayed over the air like was beheaded the dude with a Samurai Sword.
White Guy hits again, fast, then again, faster—like chopping down a tree. Either his fourth or fifth swing catches Hispanic Guy number two sharp across the temple. The guy’s eye pops out as if he had an eject button on the side of his head. The eye’s not just out, it’s torn completely loose. I’ve never seen anything like it. I bounce the RMP up onto the curb as the eye rolls to a stop in the street. All I can think of is the time a kid lost a fingertip in shop class in Canarsie and the teacher kept yelling “save the piece” before getting sick on the floor.
“Police, get down! Get down!” Gio yells. We’re out with guns drawn in a heartbeat maybe ten yards from White Guy with the bat.
“Drop the bat, get on the ground!” Gio’s got no cover. “Do it!” I add coming around the car alongside him. “On the ground now. Right now!”
White Guy stops hitting but doesn’t start following instructions. I hated this part once you pull your gun the game is rarely automatically over. It’s not rock, paper, scissors.
“Get Down!” Gio says again. Even if he won’t drop the bat If we get the guy on the group that’s as good as disarming him. We go for a tackle and planting my left foot, I spring up and kick out with my right. I used my leg hook to pull him off balance and Gio slams into him as hard as he could. I swung my other leg around and manage to catch the guy in the side of the head with my foot as he tumbled to the sidewalk then I fell on top of him. I toss him fast and got his keys, wallet, condom and then bingo a few bags of dope.

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