A minority of the 15 people rounded up by Manchester police last week in the latest iteration of the Granite Hammer drug initiative face drug dealing charges, according to Manchester police.
Police announced the arrests on Friday. They were funded through state of New Hampshire Substance Abuse Reduction Grants, or SARG, the latest rebranding of what was initially called Granite Hammer.
“These grants have been a great resource and effective in the city,” said police department spokesperson Heather Hamel in an email.
But a defense attorney said such large-scale arrests of drug users are one of the reasons people want to defund police.
“There is no one easier to arrest than an addict,” said Suzanne Ketteridge, who works a a public defender in Hillsborough County Superior Court, in an email.
“From a criminal justice standpoint wouldn’t it make more sense to hire drug counselors and social workers and put them out there to ‘find’ addicts and attempt to provide opportunities for treatment?” she said.
Manchester police launched Granite Hammer in 2015, and state lawmakers started funding it with grants the following year.
The program targeted street-level dealers of heroin and opioids for arrest. Manchester police initially trumpeted the program with press releases of multiple arrests, and police in other cities such as Nashua continue to announce large-scale arrests.
Hamel said Mancheter police received approximately $500,000 this year for its SARG grant, the fourth year of the grants.
Names of the grants have changed from Granite Hammer to Granite Shield, to Opioid Abuse Reduction Grant, and now to SARG.
SARG grants allow police to investigate drug crimes beyond opioids, the first time in four years, Hamel said. Drugs involved in last week’s arrest included cocaine, heroin and fentanyl.
In Manchester, the grant funds the Substance Abuse Reduction Group — patrol officers paid overtime to help the Special Enforcement Division crackdown on drug activity, Hamel said. The overtime means that regular patrol shifts are not depleted for the effort, she said.
In the past, Police Chief Carlo Capano has said that police no longer do the massive Granite Hammer type roundups on a regular basis and concentrate on reducing drug activity on a nightly basis.
“In this case we had a handful of warrants from all the work our officers have been doing and it made sense to take all of these people into custody at once,” he said.
Police charged five with drug possession and two with conspiracy to commit possession. Police charged one with resisting arrest. Six face charge of drug sales and one with possession with intent to sell drugs.
They ranged in age from 18 to 64. Six are women.
Hamel said the 15 will go through the court system, and she can’t predict the outcome. Some may be eligible for drug court, which provides services overseen by a judge to help people break their addiction.
Ketteridge said that when police arrest addicts, they often convince them to buy small amounts from other addicts in order to make arrests.
“It’s a vicious cycle and it doesn’t help the drug problem. What it does do is waste significant amounts of money and resources criminalizing what should be treated as a public health issue. Many other countries have done this with success,” she wrote in an email.
She said some of the suspects will end up in drug court if they’re lucky. Others face incarceration, especially if they have a record.
This fall, a new round of SARG grants is expected. This year, the state allocated $1.2 million toward SARG and Safety Department spokesman Paul Raymond said he anticipates the same amount for next year.