D.C. has unveiled a new strategy to curb one of biggest problems plaguing the city -- synthetic drugs. The plan will allow police to shut down businesses that sell these drugs.
Exclusive video shot by FOX 5 taken earlier this month showed more than a dozen people in a daze, visibly high or nearly unconscious near the Community for Creative Non-Violence shelter, the city's largest homeless shelter. The shelter is two blocks from away from D.C. police headquarters. The scene was an emergency response to treat those under the under the influence of synthetic drugs.
"It has fast become one of our biggest public safety threats," said D.C. Police Chief Cathy Lanier.
The substances can be found at liquor stores and gas stations under names including Scooby Snax and K2.
On Monday, Mayor Muriel Bowser announced the District's plan to combat these illegal drugs.
"We will do everything we can to crack down on the sale and use of synthetic drugs in our communities," she said.
The mayor is vying to pass legislation that would impose a $10,000 fine and shut down a business for four days if it is caught selling synthetic drugs on a first offense.
"We have had homicides that were carried out by persons high on those synthetic drugs and didn't recall what happened," said Chief Lanier.
She added she wants to focus on cutting out the suppliers. She has even formed a new detail -- the Criminal Interdiction Unit (CIU) -- that would identify and attempt to suppress the distribution of these drugs.
But those on the force who would only speak off camera said it is the small street dealers that need to be the focus.
14th and U Streets in Northwest D.C. is a corner that has been known for a long time as an open air drug market by patrols in the area.
"We want and we fight every day for more police on the streets, more patrols, more bike patrols," ANC 2B Commissioner Noah Smith told us.
He said he stands by the police chief's decision to target the "bigger fish."
But sources in the police department said these open air drug markets drive crime up -- something Smith said is a habitual occurrence on that very corner.
"We've been seeing several robberies and burglaries, and what we see most often, which is no news to everybody, is car thefts and thefts from automobiles," said Smith.
The new CIU unit that Chief Lanier has put in place consists of roughly 50 officers. It is a unit that is just a few weeks old, but those in it told FOX 5 they have yet to hit the streets.
They said it is a difficult task taking out the top of the food chain without first arresting those on the streets who would lead them to higher ups.