Center for Problem-Oriented Policing

Understanding Your Local Problem

The information provided above is only a generalized description of drug dealing in privately owned apartment complexes. You must combine the basic facts with a more specific understanding of your local problem. Analysis is key to understanding the exact nature of the drug market you are trying to close and will help you design a more effective response strategy. During analysis, it can be helpful to think of the drug market as a business, examining it from a financial point of view. Try to evaluate the risks, rewards, efforts, and excuses dealers, buyers, property owners, and tenants might take into account. This will help you ascertain the market's potential resilience to certain interventions, and can provide more persuasive evidence to property owners who consider their investments from an economic point of view.

Asking the Right Questions

The following are some key questions you should ask in analyzing your particular problem of drug dealing in privately owned apartment complexes, even if the answers are not always readily available. Your answers to these and other questions will help you choose the most appropriate set of responses later on.

Nature of the Drug Market

  • Is the drug market open or closed? Can undercover officers or informants make buys at the market?
  • What level of security is used at the market?
  • If arrests were made, did this close the market permanently? If other enforcement actions were taken against the market (surveillance, trash analysis, soliciting operations, etc.), did this close the market? If not, additional analysis is required.
  • When does the market operate? Day of week, time of day, peak times, winter hours, summer hours, weekend hours?
  • Does the market move indoors in winter, operating more like a closed market? Surveillance by the police, the property owner or even a private detective agency (hired by the owner or tenants) can provide this information.

Property Management

  • Who owns the apartment complex? Check tax records to determine ownership.
  • Is the owner aware of the problem?
  • How is the property managed? What techniques are used to find tenants? What methods are used to prevent and address illegal activity on the property?
  • Does the owner receive sufficient income to improve management practices and other conditions that facilitate drug dealing at the apartment complex?
  • Is the property owner well-intentioned but in need of better skills to address the problem? Is the property manager participating, intentionally overlooking the problem or in need of better skills?
  • Does the current visitor policy (or lack thereof) provide a ready excuse for buyers' presence on the property?
  • What do calls for police service reveal about the problem? Compare several similar apartment complexes nearby to see if this apartment complex uses a disproportionate share of police services. A further refinement is to look at the number of calls for service per apartment unit. Divide the total number of calls from the apartment complex by the number of rental units, and compare this number with those for similar complexes nearby. If there is a recent ownership change and sudden appearance of drug dealing, compare the call history during the current owner's tenure with that during the prior owner's.
  • What does information from other agencies, such as code enforcement, reveal about the property owner? Does the owner have a history of poor management? Does the owner generally comply with code?

Property Conditions

  • What physical conditions facilitate dealing at the complex?
  • How do the buyers get onto the property? Are there gates? If so, do they prevent the police from gaining access?
  • Does the lighting facilitate drug dealing?
  • Does the property layout (parking design, side or back alleys, shrubbery, entry and exit placement) facilitate dealing or provide easy escape?
  • Does the layout make it easy to hide drugs?

Drug Dealers

  • What are the risks and rewards to dealers in this particular drug market?

    † Ron Clarke (1997) uses a risk, reward, effort, and excuse matrix as the prism through which to view offender behavior and devise opportunity-blocking techniques.

  • What risk does the dealer face from the property owner or from other tenants?
  • What do the tenants know about the drug activity (specific apartments or specific parts of property; time frame of illegal activity; identity of dealers, buyers and suppliers; location of drugs; etc.)? How committed are they to stopping the problem? Are there tenants willing to help document the problem?††

    †† Surveys or interviews of tenants can help officers better understand the level of risk dealers pose to them. However, officers should be mindful of exposing tenants to retaliation from in-house dealers.

  • What risk does the dealer face of arrest or jail/prison time? Verify whom police have arrested from the complex, and the court sanctions imposed. List the rewards the main dealers earn from the market, and analyze how legal tactics can offset those rewards.

Drug Buyers

  • How do buyers learn about the market? Is it through market visibility or word of mouth (on the street or during jail stays)?
  • What is the market's reputation for quality of drugs, cost of drugs (e.g., the dealer gives discounts for large purchases or to frequent buyers) and reliability (always open, rarely shut down by police)?
  • How do buyers find the market?
  • Is it near a main road or arterial street? Which route do buyers use most?
  • How do buyers arrive at the market? By car or foot?
  • How does the market advertise? Do indicators on the main street steer buyers to the market?
  • Are most buyers chronic or occasional users? Interviews with buyers at different times over a week should establish if most are chronic or occasional users. Records checks on buyers may confirm this as well.
  • What are the risks and rewards to buyers in this particular drug market?
Establishing a Rough Estimate of Monetary Rewards: Ascertain the average number of buyers (over an average two-day period, allowing that markets have peak and slow sales times). Do not use the first and 15th of the month (if they are the dates when people receive government assistance checks in your area), and do not use two peak days. Multiply the average number of buyers by the average purchase amount, and then multiply that number by the total number of two-day periods in the year. For example, if you observe 36 buys during a two-day surveillance of the market, and if each buy is, on average, $15, then the two-day total is $540. Multiply this amount, $540, by 182 (the total number of two-day periods in the year). The total estimated gross revenue of this market for one year is $98,280.

Measuring Your Effectiveness

Measurement allows you to determine to what degree your efforts have succeeded, and suggests how you might modify your responses if they are not producing the intended results. You should take measures of your problem before you implement responses, to determine how serious the problem is, and after you implement them, to determine whether they have been effective. All measures should be taken in both the target area and the surrounding area. (For more detailed guidance on measuring effectiveness, see the companion guide
to this series, Assessing Responses to Problems: An Introductory Guide for Police Problem-Solvers.)

The following are potentially useful measures of the effectiveness of responses to drug markets in privately owned
apartment complexes:

  • number of calls for service for drug dealing at the apartment complex;
  • number of related calls for service (gun shots, robbery, theft) at the complex;
  • survey of tenants at the complex;
  • number of citizen complaints about drug dealing at the complex;
  • difficulty in making undercover buys at the complex;
  • number of drug dealers visible at the complex at particular times, if it is an open market;
  • arrests of repeat offenders (both dealers and buyers) at the complex;
  • traffic congestion in and beside the complex; and
  • evidence of condoms, discarded syringes and other drug related paraphernalia at and beside the complex.

It is helpful to try to determine why the particular market exists. You should base your hypothesis on the attributes of the offenders, victims, and location, the three things that need to come together to permit drug dealing to occur. Once you form your hypothesis, collaborate with those the problem affects to develop countermeasures to address the conditions and behavior that give rise to the problem. Setting reasonable goals at this stage helps to guide officers through the response stage, and sets up a framework for judging success or failure. Any of the following goals might be achievable:

  • increasing dealers' risk so that the market is no longer profitable without substantial increased effort;
  • removing the excuses buyers have for trespassing and loitering on the property;
  • engaging those who can help address the problem (the property owner, manager, residents, and mortgagor) so that improved property management practices can handle the problem with routine interventions; and
  • increasing buyers' effort and risk by changing traffic and parking in and around the complex (using traffic rerouting, resident parking only, parking fines, no-stopping zones, etc.).