When drug cartels arrive in the American suburbs

The American suburbs are sometimes portrayed as idyllic but drug cartels operating in the suburbs would give way to a different view…

But a wide-ranging Associated Press review of federal court cases and government drug-enforcement data, plus interviews with many top law enforcement officials, indicate the groups have begun deploying agents from their inner circles to the U.S. Cartel operatives are suspected of running drug-distribution networks in at least nine non-border states, often in middle-class suburbs in the Midwest, South and Northeast…

Border states from Texas to California have long grappled with a cartel presence. But cases involving cartel members have now emerged in the suburbs of Chicago and Atlanta, as well as Columbus, Ohio, Louisville, Ky., and rural North Carolina. Suspects have also surfaced in Indiana, Michigan, Minnesota and Pennsylvania.

Mexican drug cartels “are taking over our neighborhoods,” Pennsylvania Attorney General Kathleen Kane warned a legislative committee in February. State Police Commissioner Frank Noonan disputed her claim, saying cartels are primarily drug suppliers, not the ones trafficking drugs on the ground…

Statistics from the DEA suggest a heightened cartel presence in more U.S. cities. In 2008, around 230 American communities reported some level of cartel presence. That number climbed to more than 1,200 in 2011, the most recent year for which information is available, though the increase is partly due to better reporting.

There are some high-profile suburban cases mentioned later in the story.

My first thought is that this could make a hot TV show or movie: charming suburb shattered by the actions of a cartel family. Why resort to stories about international spies or terrorism (thinking about The Americans)? This also reminds me of a scene in Gang Leader for a Day where Sudhir Venkatesh describes a meeting of the gang leaders in a large suburban house. While the kids play and the wives socialize, the men plotted.

But, I can also imagine the real concern of suburbanites. I remember being in late grade school and middle school when gangs were seen as a big threat to our suburb. This topic seemed to dominate conversation for several years. So then take it a step up and think how suburbanites might react to international drug cartels with lots of money, manpower, and weapons. This goes against everything suburbs are supposed to represent: a lack of violence, safety for kids, respectable neighbors.

It would be interesting to look further at why drug cartels are expanding operations in the suburbs. Is this where the demand for drugs is highest? Is it easier to be anonymous? Do the suburbs offer the “good life” while conducting operations?