Hudson Valley cops see resurgence in PCP use
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A Newburgh woman was driving home on a hot night last month when she was forced to slam on her brakes as a naked man nonchalantly stepped in front of her car.
The man didn't seem to notice the car until the driver hit the horn. Then he turned, jumped on the hood and started hammering on the windshield. When cops arrived and tried to arrest the man, they realized they were dealing with a person fueled by PCP. The suspect was unfazed by shoulder locks and managed to squirm away from the officers, Newburgh Lt. Dan Cameron said.
The cops ultimately used a Taser.
"They're violent, and they don't react to pain compliance methods," Cameron said of people high on PCP. "They simply have a very high tolerance for pain."
Cops: PCP incidents surging
Although regional data for PCP use do not exist, officials in some local police departments said the drug is experiencing a resurgence in the Hudson Valley.
Greenburgh Police Department reports more than a four-fold increase in PCP-related incidents, while Newburgh police field one or two calls per week regarding violence or disruptions caused by people high on the drug. Greenburgh officers have dealt with 22 PCP-related incidents this year, compared with just five in 2011 and four in 2010.
Greenburgh Police Chief Joseph DeCarlo said he first noticed an increase in PCP-related incidents "around the beginning of this year or late last year ... I've talked to other police chiefs in the area and they're seeing it too."
DeCarlo said he isn't sure why the drug is making such a resurgence. "I guess it's the type of high drug users like today," he said.
People high on PCP don't feel pain because the drug initially was developed as an analgesic, according to Dr. David Shurtleff, acting deputy director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse.
Researchers quickly realized PCP had outsized adverse effects including panic, fear, agitation and symptoms that mimic schizophrenia, and discontinued its use as a painkiller in the 1950s, Shurtleff explained. A brief attempt to use it in veterinary medicine was curtailed for the same reasons.
"The drug was never really used clinically," Shurtleff said. "It was not ethical."
Drug fuels violent attacks
The Greenburgh Police Department employs civilian and police paramedics, making it unique among Hudson Valley police departments. The department's policy is to bring PCP users to a local hospital to prevent them from hurting themselves or others, Lt. Brian J. Ryan said.
"We try to balance public safety and the safety and well-being of the person who needs the help," he said.
Ryan detailed an Aug. 24 incident that ended in much the same way the recent Newburgh incident ended -- with officers using a Taser because they couldn't subdue a naked man on PCP.
DeCarlo said "numerous" officers in his department have been hurt while confronting subjects under the influence of PCP.
"We've been lucky, it's been minor injuries," DeCarlo said. In a lot of cases we've been able to subdue the individual, but it's an accident waiting to happen."
The controversial March 7 shooting of 22-year-old Michael Lembhard also had a PCP connection. Police said Lembhard was high on PCP when he charged them with a knife, a detail later confirmed by an autopsy.
In late August, 32-year-old Akeem Lindsay was sentenced to 30 years to life for killing his girlfriend with a machete during a PCP-fueled rampage in her New Rochelle apartment.
A Mount Vernon bust at dawn on Aug. 31 illustrates how some people are getting the drug locally. Detectives from the city's drug unit raided a S. 10th Ave. apartment, where they found PCP, two guns and six people, including a 15-year-old. The apartment functioned as a covert storefront for drug sales, cops said.
Perhaps the most infamous incident involving PCP was the 1991 Los Angeles Police Department assault on Rodney King. Faced with public backlash, the officers said they believed King was high on PCP when they encountered him, a claim later disproved by toxicology tests. PCP -- as well as marijuana and alcohol -- was in King's system when he fell into his backyard pool and drowned last June, autopsy results showed.
Trigger for bizarre behaviors
No one knows why PCP abuse appears to be cyclical, and police said tracking incidents related to PCP is difficult because not all users are brought to the hospital and given blood tests to confirm the presence of the drug.
PCP has a rapid onset and is especially unpredictable, Shurtleff said. In addition to bloodshot eyes, slurred speech, delayed reactions and motor impairment, it can manifest in more extreme ways.
"Some may have pleasant hallucinations, others may have extreme panic attacks and paranoia," Shurtleff said. "Not everybody responds in the same way."
But even people experiencing "pleasant" hallucinations can be a danger to themselves. Ryan recalled an incident involving a man who climbed a tree and was making unintelligible sounds when people tried to talk to him.
"He'd climbed a very high tree, and he was standing on a tree limb, a very large branch, fully nude," Ryan said. "It was just bizarre. Fortunately, we were able to talk him down. We took him to the hospital."