The rundown apartments in the Dayton, Ohio, neighborhood were more than just an eyesore. All around the small complex of interconnected apartments, working-class families kept their yards and older homes up, watched their children walk to school, and worked to make something better for themselves. Yet, right in the middle, like the first signs of rot in a tree, a gang of crack dealers had set up operations in the rundown apartments.

Day and night, cars stopped and men and women ran into the apartment, coming out a few minutes later with their purchases. Loud music and obscene language spilled from the apartments into the street. Broken bottles, crack pipes, and trash accumulated. Prostitutes hung around, luring customers into the filthy rooms where dirty mattresses lay on the floor.

Enough was enough, and tonight something was going to be done about it.

Taking Action

A marked Montgomery County Sheriff's Department K-9 vehicle pulled over a plain white Ford Econoline van right in front of the crack house. The dealers were alarmed at first, especially since a group of customers had just left. But it looked like just a routine traffic stop, so the dealers went back in laughing and shut the door.

Inside the white van, an entry team from the Combined Agencies for Narcotics Enforcement (CANE) crouched beside the rear door. Balaclavas hid their long hair and their faces, raid jackets stenciled with CANE covered their body armor and they held H&K USP .40s or sawed-off entry shotguns. One man held a heavy metal mini-ram.

"You know," the detective said, "I should have CANE cut into the front of this ram." He hefted the ram. "Then when I knocked the door down, it'd cut CANE in the wood like a calling card."

The other men and women were quiet. At least one of the suspects in the house was wanted for the murder and subsequent burning of the body of a prostitute. Several were known to carry weapons.

Another marked squad car pulled up behind the first one, simulating a routine back-up car. The carefully developed deception plan was fully realized. Sergeant William "Wild Bill" Dillon, a lanky, old mustachioed-pro who could pass for actor Sam Elliot's twin, looked to his rear then at the crack house, then whispered into his handset, "Go. Go. Go."

The Econoline's doors burst open and the assault team scrambled out in stack order and rushed the door of the crack house. The perimeter cover team, the uniformed officers and masked plainclothes officers, rushed from their vehicles and established a cordon around the small apartment complex. The ram made a big arc and took down the door with one swing, and in a heartbeat, the entry team crashed through the door and took down the occupants.

"Get down! Get down! Police! Get down!"

In the space of a few moments, the quiet street with a routine traffic stop is transformed into a police parking lot, lightbars sending blue and red everywhere, with nearby neighbors filling the streets and a sorry looking group of once-cocky crack dealers marched out to do the walk of shame.

It's just another day in the neighborhood for the guys and gals of CANE.

From Humble Beginnings

Combined Agencies for Narcotics Enforcement (CANE) was started in September 1987 as a vehicle to target mid- and upper-level narcotics dealers working in and around Montgomery County, Ohio. Montgomery County is an urban and suburban county with a population of 600,000. It covers part of the greater Dayton metropolitan area with a total population of 1.2 million.

The number of drug operations and drug-related offenses in the greater Dayton area seem all out of proportion to the population density. Dayton sits at the intersection of two major interstates; with I-70 running east-west while I-75 runs north-south. This puts Dayton at a crossroads between the lucrative drug markets of Detroit, Cleveland, Columbus, Indianapolis, Cincinnati, and Louisville. Past CANE and DEA investigations show that major traffickers from California, Texas, and New York use the Dayton area as a primary distribution point for heroin, cocaine, and marijuana.

Dealers have bought distressed farmland properties in the rural outskirts of Dayton to bring in semi-trailers loaded with marijuana. The loads are broken down under the cover of old barns for further distribution. In the urban areas, entire apartment buildings, like the one raided, have been converted into drug markets with investments from narcotics dealers.

Lt. Dave Spaulding, the commander of CANE and the Organized Crime Unit at the time this article was written, is well known to many officers as the author of numerous articles on handguns, concealed carry, defensive tactics, and other police-related topics in POLICE.[PAGEBREAK]

"CANE couldn't happen if it weren't for the support of the participating agencies and police chiefs," says Lt. Spaulding. "Money's not the problem in keeping this unit running. We get a yearly federal grant and substantial amounts in asset-seizure from drug dealers. "Manpower is the problem. Holding this unit together is hard. Some agencies think it's a great idea in the beginning of their involvement, but they pull out as soon as any sort of manpower problem develops. If the participating agencies aren't in it for the long haul, the unit will fall apart. It's up to the chiefs and the agents in charge in a given area to make sure it has the manpower to keep it going," he says.

CANE is funded by a grant from the Department of Justice through the Byrne Memorial Criminal Justice Grant Program. The grant is applied for and renewed annually. The DOJ grant funds the salaries of the uniformed K-9 officer and unit secretary, rent for the secure offices, drug buy funds, and overtime.

Each participating agency supplies at least one detective and pays for his or her salary and benefits. Day-to-day expenses are paid for with assets seized and forfeitures from drug dealers. The seized assets pay for the majority of CANE operations.

The original operational concept was for CANE to target those traffickers above street level to stop the flow of drugs to street level dealers. This tried and true and highly effective approach remains the same today.

Each major case is accomplished through lengthy undercover and surveillance operations. CANE officers operate at an extremely high level of skill when it comes to surveillance. And their court record bears this out. In 13 years of operation, CANE has never lost a case or been overturned in appeal. That's an impressive record for any organization.

"If CANE gets you, you're got, period," a local defense attorney said.

Each case may be worked for months, and there are several major cases going at any one time. On the average, 25 to 30 mid-level dealers are taken off the streets each year by CANE. While 25 to 30 might not sound like much, each one of those dealers supplies between 15 and 20 street level dealers. That works out to between 375 and 600 street dealers having their operations disrupted. When a major dealer is taken out, the numbers can be even greater.

It's immediately evident that the success of this unit hinges on the ability of its members to operate as one tight, cohesive team. While any unit will have officers that stand out, what stands out in CANE is that all the members are top-flight pros who want to be there, who live and breathe their work and go the extra mile to get the drugs off the street.

"When there's work to be done, it gets done without me saying a word," says Sgt. Bill Dillon, the unit supervisor sergeant. "These guys are here because they want to be here. They can only spend five years here, even though some of them come back here after spending time elsewhere on patrol or at the jail. For the right kind of officer, this is where it's at."

"Every day it's something different," one officer says. "Last night it's a rolling surveillance, tonight it's a raid, tomorrow we've got to go wire up a snitch and prep him. We do it all. We can do it!" We can do it.

That's the motto of the overworked, underpaid, and highly feared CANE Unit of Montgomery County, Ohio.

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