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Drug Dealing in Privately Owned Apartment Complexes

Guide No.4 (2001)

by Rana Sampson

The Problem of Drug Dealing in Privately Owned Apartment Complexes

If you have an apartment complex in your community where drug dealing is occurring, you may have found that simply making arrests has not closed the drug market. What else could be done? Why is this problem occurring? What conditions facilitate the drug market's operations, and what remedies will work best?

This guidebook addresses these issues. It describes the types of drug markets found in apartment complexes and provides questions to ask when analyzing those markets. It suggests ways to encourage property owners to take more responsibility for problems. Finally, it summarizes the full range of measures you can use to address drug markets in apartment complexes.

Problem Description

Drug markets in privately owned apartment complexes are most often found in low-income areas where property owners sometimes retreat (out of fear or financial considerations) from investing in repairs and otherwise practicing effective management.1 In these markets, users and dealers buy and sell a wide range of illicit drugs, predominantly cocaine, crack cocaine, heroin, and methamphetamine. The markets are often extremely profitable for the dealer, and the income is nontaxable.

Drug dealing in apartment complexes can attract other nuisance behavior that diminishes the residents' quality of life, such as loitering; littering (including drug paraphernalia and used condoms); trespassing; prostitution (including illegal sexual activity on the property, in nearby yards, in alleys, or in driveways); drug use; abandoned vehicles; speeding vehicles; parking problems; unwanted additional foot, car and bicycle traffic in residential neighborhoods; public drinking; public urination; gang formation; graffiti (establishing turf ownership of a drug market); assaults; auto theft; auto breakins; residential and commercial burglaries; possession of and trafficking in stolen property; weapons violations (including gun possession and gun trafficking); robberies; drive-by shootings; or other violent crime (including homicide). This helps explain why successfully tackling a drug market can bring about substantial decreases in crime in the surrounding area.

† In England, a study done on three drug markets where prostitution occurred found that "sex markets can play a significant part in the development of drug markets (and vice versa)" (May, Edmunds and Hough 1999 [Full text] [Briefing Notes]). The researchers noted that "professionals estimated that between two-thirds and threequarters of street workers might be drug-dependent," and found that many of the prostitutes spent much of their daily earnings on drugs. Thus, the influx of money from a nearby prostitution market can bolster a drug market, providing a steady source of customers. These dual markets are more difficult to unravel and require additional analysis of how one fuels the other.

A private security firm hired by a Cincinnati housing agency calculated the yearly income of one apartment-complex drug market. Surveillance of the market showed as many as 26 transactions an hour during peak sales times (rush hour and lunchtime), less other times. With an average of $15 per transaction, estimated gross revenues exceeded $2 million dollars annually.

Related Problems

The problem of drug dealing in privately owned apartment complexes exhibits some similarities to related problems listed below, though each requires its own analysis and response. These related problems are not addressed in this guide:

Factors Contributing to Drug Dealing in Privately Owned Apartment Complexes

Understanding the factors that contribute to your problem will help you frame your own local analysis questions, determine good effectiveness measures, recognize key intervention points, and select appropriate responses.

What We Know About Drug Dealing in Privately Owned Apartment Complexes

Apartment complexes can harbor two main types of drug markets–open and closed. In open markets, dealers sell to all potential customers, screening out only those suspected of being police or some other threat. In closed markets, dealers sell only to people they know or to those vouched for by other buyers.2

In choosing between two evils, closed markets pose less threat to a community than open markets. Open markets in apartment complexes are much more susceptible to drive-by shootings, customers who care little about the property, and customers who use drugs on the property. In comparison, closed-market dealers are generally averse to attracting attention to their operation, so they often keep their customers' behavior in line.

Certain conditions make privately owned apartment complexes in low-income, high-crime neighborhoods susceptible to open-market drug dealing. These conditions are outlined below.

Tenants and nearby residents with drug histories. Chronic users often live near their markets so they can readily buy drugs. This helps sustain the market. Also, drug markets in low-income neighborhoods can provide a source of part-or full-time employment, and apartment complexes can be ripe recruiting grounds due to a high population of poorly paid, underemployed or unemployed tenants.

Easy access. Open drug markets in apartment complexes typically operate near main streets. Other factors that appear to facilitate open markets are ease of parking (or stopping) for buyers, and access to apartment complex grounds.

Absentee owners and/or inadequate or untrained property managers. Property owners often do not live in their apartment complexes, and in the case of smaller complexes and those encumbered by debt, they may not employ on-site managers, reducing the risk that visitors will be stopped, questioned or prevented from entering the property. In large apartment complexes, tenants, police and property managers do not always know who belongs at the complex and who does not. This makes it easy for people to come and go unquestioned, and for drug traffic to appear as just another part of the routine activity.††

† For some apartment complexes, the building superintendent is the property manager, responsible for tenant selection and order maintenance, among myriad other duties.

†† For a fuller discussion of the importance of "place" managers, such as property owners, property managers and apartment superintendents, and their impact on crime, see Felson (1995) [Abstract only]and Eck and Weisburd (1995)[Full text]. For research indicating a link between poor property management practices and crime, see Eck and Wartell (1998); Asbury (1988); Green Mazzerolle, Kadleck and Roehl (1998); and Clarke and Bichler-Robertson (1998).

Limited natural surveillance of property. Buyers are often safeguarded from police surveillance because they purchase drugs on private property, sometimes behind the security of fences or shrubs, or inside an apartment.

What We Know About Open Drug Markets

Description. Open drug markets are likely to be outdoors and, by their very nature, less secure than closed markets. Dealers usually sell small amounts of drugs to each buyer, and are highly vulnerable to market disruption and intervention approaches. Open-market dealers may specialize in one drug, or offer a variety of drugs. During the 1980s and early 1990s, in many cities, open markets proliferated on street corners and in publicly and privately owned apartment complexes.

Some of these still exist, but many are now hybrid, containing elements of both open and closed markets. The hybrid market remains open to almost all customers, and to reduce risk, dealers may use security designed to screen potential customers. Security may include countersurveillance, electronic detection devices, prescreening interviews, frisk searches, and use of pager sales to known customers. In most ways, though, hybrid markets remain open.

Location. Open markets with stranger-to-stranger sales tend to operate close to where people naturally congregate, so that customer traffic is maximized and activities of law-abiding community members mask the drug dealing. The markets are often near major streets or other busy places, such as shopping centers, office buildings, recreation areas, or schools. Apartment complexes, especially those close to main streets, are places of natural congregation, yet offer some degree of security, often having multiple entrances and exits.

Dealer security. Operating off the public street on apartment complex grounds gives dealers an advantage: they can see if police are coming, and can escape into the security of a specific apartment where officers cannot enter without a warrant or a constitutionally recognized exception.

Property management. Open markets can operate on apartment complex grounds only if there is no meaningful intervention by the owner or property manager.3

Advertisement. Open markets must trade some measure of security to achieve a high number of sales. Dealers advertise by picking a location that acts as a "billboard." In other words, the location itself is often one of the only means of advertisement open to dealers, besides word of mouth. The location must be visible enough to gain customers, but discreet enough to discourage police intervention.

Operations. Open markets may be 24-hour operations or may operate only around busy times such as rush hour and evenings. Some full-time operations employ numerous workers (sometimes underage) who do a variety of tasks to facilitate sales. These include dealing, steering potential buyers to the market, alerting dealers to police, and running special orders to favored customers.

Buyers. Open-air markets are attractive to buyers who look to obtain their drugs in the shortest amount of time. These might include hard-core users and those preferring the safety of drive-through markets. When chronic users are the bulk of a drug market, displacement, rather than market elimination, will probably follow police intervention, since chronic users are the most difficult to dissuade.

Vulnerabilities. Open markets are vulnerable to police undercover and informant operations, alert and active property management, and community intervention (such as identifying where dealers hide stash); all these raise dealers' risk level. Traffic management techniques such as altering the direction of the street, creating a cul-de-sacs or limiting the number of escape routes raise buyers' risk level.

What We Know About Closed Drug Markets

Description. Closed drug markets are more likely to be indoors, with dealers' supplying only friends and acquaintances. The dealers can sell larger quantities of drugs to individual buyers than in open markets because they can easily store the necessary equipment, such as scales and packaging supplies, inside an apartment. Closed-market dealers may specialize in one drug, or offer a variety.

† In a study of a particularly drugridden area of San Diego in the early 1990s, researchers found that crack and cocaine markets were more likely to be open markets and methamphetamine markets more likely to be closed markets (Eck 1998a [Abstract only]). However, when a drug becomes more fashionable, one may find that open markets pop up to accommodate increased customer demand. In San Diego, although methamphetamine sales are usually found in closed indoor markets, reports of open-market sales are increasing.

Location. Since dealers in closed markets rely on word of mouth, they do not need to locate in busy or well-trafficked areas. This means that tactics such as rerouting traffic or increasing security at the apartment complex will have less of an impact than on an open market.

Dealer security. In closed markets, dealers prefer secure locations to a high volume of individual customers, because high customer volume may raise the suspicions of neighbors and police. Also, these markets are vulnerable to robbers who know that dealers cannot rely on police to intercede. Some dealers fortify their apartment doors, install multiple locks and refuse entry to apartment handymen, to increase security.

Property management. In only a small percentage of cases are owners in cahoots with dealers, suggesting that initially, officers should seek to work with owners to address the problem. Managers are more susceptible than property owners, because they have less at stake. Dealers may offer managers special favors or kickbacks to "turn a blind eye." Officers might try to work with the manager first; if there are indications that the manager is involved, officers might seek to work solely with the owner.

Advertisement. Dealers in closed markets advertise by word of mouth only. Police intervention in closed markets requires highly specific knowledge of buyers, the seller and/or the product to pass the initial scrutiny to enter. Police can often gain this information from informants or nearby residents.

Operations. Closed markets require fewer employees because the volume of buyers is smaller and the dealer wants to avoid open advertisement of the market. Some closed markets in apartment complexes operate only in evening hours, perhaps indicating the dealer is legally employed during the day or is simply minimizing risk by limiting hours.

Buyers. Closed markets attract buyers who want to lessen their risk of getting caught by police and those who want the certainty of purchasing the same or similar quality product that the closed market dealer sells. These buyers have gained the confidence of a closed market dealer perhaps because of friendship, reliability or behavior (not exposing the dealer to police or other intervention).

Vulnerabilities. Certain practices may increase the vulnerability of closed markets–frequent property owner inspections of each apartment, strict lease conditions, explicit house rules, and immediate follow-through on eviction if drug dealing is established.

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

Property Management

Property Conditions

Drug Dealers

Drug Buyers

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:

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:

Responses to the Problem of Drug Dealing in Privately Owned Apartment Complexes

Your analysis of your local problem should give you a better understanding of the factors contributing to it. Once you have analyzed your local problem and established a baseline for measuring effectiveness, you should consider possible responses to address the problem.

The following response strategies provide a foundation of ideas for addressing your particular problem. These strategies are drawn from a variety of research studies and police reports. Several of these strategies may apply to your community's problem. It is critical that you tailor responses to local circumstances, and that you can justify each response based on reliable analysis. In most cases, an effective strategy will involve implementing several different responses. Law enforcement responses alone are seldom effective in reducing or solving the problem. Do not limit yourself to considering what police can do: give careful consideration to who else in your community shares responsibility for the problem and can help police better respond to it.

Because a drug market can become entrenched fairly quickly, budding drug markets should not be ignored. Early intervention makes good use of scarce police resources since entrenched drug markets are fertile ground for other criminal activity.

† During this stage, officers will also assess the resources available to them (personnel, equipment, time, money, etc.) and the political sentiment of the community and government administrators (police, mayoral, legislative, prosecutorial) toward civil, criminal and other remedies.

General Considerations for an Effective Strategy

  1. Enlisting property owners' help in closing a drug market. Drug dealing in apartment complexes exacts high costs. Aside from the health costs associated with use and addiction, and the physical risks to the safety of tenants, property managers and dealers themselves, there are considerable financial costs to the property owner. Consider using these costs to engage the property owner in tackling the problem.

    Most apartment complexes where drug dealing occurs experience many other problems as well, including high tenant turnover and vacancy rates; vandalism or squatting in vacant apartments; increased calls to police; increased police presence on the property; poor reputation of the complex and the property management among neighbors, police and local realtors; lower property values for the complex and for surrounding properties; fear among law-abiding tenants (including fear of retribution); apathy among law-abiding tenants if they perceive the property owner as ignoring or encouraging the market; ceding of common space by lawabiding tenants to those engaged in crime; isolation of lawabiding tenants who stay indoors when dealing (and crimes associated with dealing) are more prevalent; and illicit gun possession by those (sometimes juveniles) seeking to protect themselves against dealers. The presence of drug-dealing tenants in an apartment complex sometimes attracts other criminals as tenants, because the drug dealing can mask their activities or provide them with a ready market for their activities.

    In addition, the property owner might incur these typical financial costs:

    $ 500 Average cost if drug dealer simply stops paying rent for one month
    $ 50 Dispossessor warrant
    $ 25 Writ of Possession
    $ 250 Loss of rent due to tenant turnover
    $ 150 Labor costs of a painter
    $ 100 Paint costs
    $ 100 General cleaning of apartment
    $ 40 Carpet cleaning
    $1,215 Cost to property owner (if there is no damage to the apartment)

    † Officer Tracy Walden, Savannah (Ga.) Police Department, uses these estimates to show owners of apartment complexes where drug dealing is occurring just how significant the cost of one dealer can be to their bottom line. In San Diego, some dealers in apartment complexes file for bankruptcy when faced with eviction, adding six more months to the eviction process (and a loss of six months in unpaid rent). In addition, other tenants sometimes bail out of their leases if drug dealing occurs on a property, increasing the number of vacancies and loss of monthly rent.

  2. Enforcing laws and agreements violated by drug dealing in privately owned apartment complexes. When selecting responses, consider which specific laws and agreements are violated by drug dealing in open or closed markets.
    • Apartment complex rules: sometimes referred to as "house rules" concerning visitors, noise, use of space, etc.
    • State laws: narcotics laws (trafficking, possession and intoxication); alcohol laws; loitering and trespassing laws; health codes; child welfare laws, including child endangerment (if a child is in a dealer's apartment); elder abuse laws (if a dealer is taking advantage of an older person and using his or her residence to deal drugs); vandalism laws; harassment laws; nuisance laws; certain asset forfeiture laws.
    • Federal laws: drug-free school zone laws (when the market is near a school); federal tax laws; certain asset forfeiture laws; federal (and sometimes state) housing voucher programs providing disadvantaged tenants with apartments in private complexes subject property owners to special conditions.
    • Local laws: nuisance laws; alcohol laws; health codes; local building, fire and environmental code violations (especially if dangerous drugs are chemically mixed in an apartment); dog leash violations (if dangerous dogs are used to protect the market); business or zoning laws regarding operation of an illegal business in a residential property.
    • Legal conditions: probation and parole conditions prohibiting visiting or mixing with other probationers or parolees, such as often occurs in a drug market.
Example: Police, fire, building, code enforcement, recreation, and planning departments in Ontario, California, met to prioritize crime hot spots there. The team conducted site visits and met with apartment owners. They worked with renters "to unite them in demanding better property management." They trained apartment managers to find responsible renters, and informed owners of their rights and responsibilities. Lowinterest loans were available to owners who conformed to city codes; civil and criminal remedies were reserved for those who did not. The team recruited city services for cleanup and repair, as well as for creating recreation programs for children. Property values increased in the target area and in the surrounding areas. After the interventions, the target area experienced significant declines in calls for city services (which were now responded to through the joint efforts of city government and property managers). Parts of the target area experienced up to a 73 percent decrease in complaints to city agencies concerning conditions and problems at the properties.4

Using What We Know From Research on Particular Strategies' Effectiveness

Appendix A outlines a wider range of possible responses to drug dealing in apartment complexes than is presented here. Here we discuss only those responses that have been evaluated through research. It will be evident that some of those most used by police have more limited effectiveness than previously thought.

  1. Applying intensive police enforcement. Research suggests that intensive police enforcement at drug hot spots, sometimes referred to as "sweeps" or "crackdowns," has an impact on some buyers, particularly those who want to buy only at markets where the risk of arrest is low. However, intensive enforcement alone can have other, perhaps unintended, consequences. These include alienation of lawabiding community members stopped and questioned, and displacement of drug dealing indoors, thus making it more resistant to police interventions. In addition, because intensive police enforcement is by its very nature temporary, the impact is often only short-term and dependent on the resiliency of the market and the buyers. Use of this tactic may also give law-abiding tenants and the property owner the unrealistic notion that a drug market is solely a police problem. Some officers have argued that intensive enforcement shows the community that the police care about the problem; however, some of the unintended effects may, in fact, have the opposite result.††

    † In one study in Kansas City, Mo., the effect of intensive enforcement, including undercover buys, warrant searches and arrests, lasted only two weeks, after which it almost completely disappeared (Sherman and Rogan 1995).

    †† Other approaches involving the property owner and tenants may have significantly longer-term impact, leaving these two groups better equipped to handle similar problems in the future.

  2. Arresting dealers and buyers. Arrest is effective if local courts are willing to impose meaningful sentences on dealers and buyers. This often depends on jail and prison overcrowding and on the number of prior convictions of an arrestee. In many cases, the courts allow those arrested for selling drugs to plead to lesser offenses, or release them on bail between arrest and trial or arrest and plea-bargaining. It is estimated that more than 90 percent of filed criminal cases nationwide result in plea-bargaining. Appendix B provides more details about drugs and the criminal justice system.
  3. Increasing place guardianship. Research suggests that improved place management can block opportunities for certain crimes, such as drug dealing. Ways to increase place guardianship include
    • showing the owner the financial costs of having a drug market on the property,
    • engaging the mortgage bank that holds the loan on the property,
    • outlining the physical risks to the owner,
    • providing training for the landlord, and
    • engaging tenants or neighbors in information-gathering and market disruption.
    If the owner's profits from the property are so low that it is financially impossible for the owner to wait to find a screened tenant, then applying pressure to the owner will not help. In such a case, consider leveraging a small amount of community investment funds to give the owner the economic ability to screen potential tenants and improve security at the complex.

    † On several occasions, police agencies in National City and Fontana, Calif., collaborated with community development or housing agencies to offer "fixer upper" grants to property owners who initially balked at the expense of crime prevention and code compliance improvements.

  4. Making physical changes at the property. Limiting access may deter some buyers because it increases their effort in purchasing drugs, but limiting access may also deter the police from entering the property. Limiting escape routes can increase buyers' and dealers' risk of getting caught. As for lighting, dealers may prefer it to be good so that they can better see their customers and the police. Good lighting also reduces the risk that the dealer will get robbed, because it increases the probability of the dealer's identifying the robber.
  5. Sending notification letters to, and meeting with, property owners concerning drug dealing. In a San Diego study, notification letters from police to property owners, coupled with meetings between police and property owners, increased the probability that dealers would be evicted. This also reduced crime at the rental properties as much as 60 percent compared with sites that received no follow-up intervention involving a meeting.5 Police agencies should follow up regularly with those property owners who only reluctantly improve management practices. Police should monitor calls for service at the properties to detect any resurgence of illegal activity, and should document every interaction with the property owners in writing. Notification letters often list consequences for inaction, including abatement, which is described next.
  6. Applying civil remedies, including abatement proceedings. Different types of civil remedies can be used to deal with properties sheltering drug markets, including temporary injunctive relief, temporary seizure of premises, permanent seizure of premises, and monetary damages. The district attorney, the police or private citizens can sue in civil court for abatement and/or for financial restitution for the harmed parties.6
  7. Evicting drug dealers. The Milwaukee Police Department sought out evicted drug dealers in their new homes to determine if eviction simply displaced dealing to a new area. They found that less than 20 percent of those who were not in jail or prison were still in the drug trade, indicating that displacement levels were low.7
  8. Offering drug treatment. Research indicates that there are different ways to offer drug treatment, and that the varying models also vary in effectiveness.

    • The information model. Sharing information about drug treatment with users (verbally, through handouts or posters, or by providing phone numbers of referral services) does not appear to be highly effective.

      † Information referral schemes evaluated in England found they "tend not to lead users into treatment." In Thames Valley, England, police found that one information referral campaign elicited only four calls from users during the course of a year (Newburn and Elliot 1998:13-14) [Full text] [Briefing notes].

    • The proactive model. Involving drug outreach workers at the site as part of a multiagency response to problems can be effective.8
    • The incentive model. Coerced court-based referral, as part of the conditions of probation or sentencing, is effective if coupled with drug-use monitoring and screening.9
    Officers should try to arrange for chronic users to enter court-ordered, monitored drug treatment to begin lessening their reliance on particular markets. The fewer the chronic users, the more vulnerable the market is to police intervention, such as buy-and-bust operations. This is because recreational users are more likely to have jobs and, as a result, want to avoid the risk of arrest, since it might impact their employment.

Taking Account of Displacement

There is evidence that if displacement occurs, it is not one-for-one. In other words, displacement may be only partial, not enough to cancel the benefits of the countermeasures because the displaced criminal activity lessens and is, as a result, more manageable for the police and community to address.

Displacement indoors. Intensive enforcement alone can displace an open market indoors. Driving a market indoors negatively impacts it, decreasing its customer base because it must rely on word of mouth for advertisement, rather than visual cues. Also, an indoor market is less convenient to buyers (they must park, not just stop momentarily), and buyers may feel less safe, as they now have to enter dealers' homes. However, residents of an apartment complex may not find this a complete solution. Property management must improve to rid the complex of the market.

Displacement nearby. If property management becomes effective, an apartment-complex drug market must close down or move. A review of the displacement literature suggests that there may be ways to minimize nearby displacement.

Additional Resources

Landlord Training

John Campbell, of Campbell DeLong Resources Inc. (www.cdri.com), wrote a Landlord Training Manual PDF that has been adopted by many police departments around the country. Here is the version used in Santa Cruz, CA.

Las Vegas has an ordinance requiring people who want to manage apartment building to complete a landlord training program

Tim Zehring of the Mesa Police Department in Arizona developed the very successful Crime-free Multi-housing program. In only ten years it has spread across the country and internationally as well.

Bureau of Justice Assistance (1995). Keeping Drug Activity Out of Rental Property: Establishing Landlord Training Programs. BJA Fact Sheet.

Ordinance Enforcement and Nuisance Abatement

Many cities have codes and ordinances in place concerning owners who allow drug dealing on their properties. Here are two examples.

Other Sources

This new guide to policing crack markets is based on good practice models from the UK and incorporates recent studies and experience. - Burgess, R. (2003). Disrupting Crack Markets: A Practice Guide. [PDF] London: Home Office.

Eck, J.E. and J. Wartell (1999). Reducing Crime and Drug Dealing by Improving Place Management: A Randomized Experiment. [PDF] NIJ Research Preview. Washington, DC: National Institute of Justice.

Finn, P. (1995). The Manhattan District Attorney's Narcotics Eviction Program. [PDF] NIJ Program Focus. Washington, DC: National Institute of Justice.

Green Mazerolle, L. and J. Roehl (1999) Controlling Drug and Disorder Problems: Oakland's Beat Health Program. [PDF] NIJ Research in Brief. Washington, DC: National Institute of Justice.

Robertson, Ian, and Kevin Flemen. (nd). Tackling Drug Use in Rented Housing: A Good Practice Guide [PDF], Home Office.

Abstracts of publications that have appeared since this guide was written

Disrupting Crack Markets: A Practice Guide. Burgess, R., N. Abigail, M. Lacriarde, and J. Hawkins (2003). London: Home Office (2003)   Available at: www.drugs.gov.uk/ReportsandPublications/Communities/1051178536

This practice guide offers suggestions for how the police can work with partners to implement a range of actions that will disrupt crack markets. Specifically, the guide was written for police partnerships in England and Wales, but may also be applicable to situations in Scotland and Northern Ireland. Disrupting supply is not the only way of addressing crack problems in the UK. In fact, demand-reduction measures, such as treatment and education, are on their own unlikely to lead to the decline of drug markets in the short term. Enforcement tactics and the disruption and reduction of opportunities to sell crack are an essential part of any local action to tackle crack problems. Nevertheless, action to reduce demand should also be developed to support enforcement activity. Drawing on best practice from the UK and beyond, this guide brings together tested approaches to controlling crack markets; and where possible, project examples are included. In particular, the strategies are discussed in 4 sections: How crack markets operate; Preparing for action against crack markets; Action to tackle markets; and Assessing the impact of police action against crack markets. Overall, a wide range of action is described that can be tailored to the precise form of any local operating market.

The Impact of a Police Crackdown on a Street Drug Scene: Evidence From the Street. Aitken, C., D. Moore, P. Higgs, J. Kelsall, and M. Kerger (2002). International Journal of Drug Policy, 13(3):189-198.

This study documents the impact of a police crackdown on a street heroin market in a suburb of Melbourne, Australia, as perceived by individuals involved in the market. The initiative involved a deliberate focus on incoming traffic, passive deterrence through high visibility, and increased efforts to intercept buyers and sellers through a greater police presence. The effect of the operation is essentially superficial and temporary. While the crackdown achieves its objective of reducing the visible aspects of the street drug scene, the market rapidly adapts to its new conditions. Negative outcomes include the partial displacement of the drug scene to nearby metropolitan areas; the discouragement of safe injecting practice and safe needle and syringe disposal; and more frequent occurrences of violence and fraud. These outcomes appear to outweigh any perceived positive impacts, which are achieved at significant public expense. In line with long-standing Australian policy, the case is made for approaches that incorporate and balance demand reduction, supply reduction and harm reduction principles.

Advancing Problem-Oriented Policing: Lessons From Dealing With Drug Markets. Sampson, R. (2003). In J. Knutsson (ed.), Problem-Oriented Policing: From Innovation to Mainstream. Crime Prevention Studies, Vol. 15. Monsey, N.Y: Criminal Justice Press.

In the early 1990s, American policing, applying a problem-oriented approach, displayed much creative energy in closing drug markets. This has not translated to a wider range of quality efforts in tackling other common crimes, such as burglary, auto theft, and shoplifting. While few of the factors that combined to fuel wide exploration of creative solutions in drug markets are present for other crime and safety problems, there may be some simple ways to engage the police to further study and target other crimes. Three strategies are offered: identifying, understanding, and responding to snowball crimes; using a situational crime prevention approach to graded responses for repeat victimization; and examining privately-owned properties for disproportionate demands on police service with an eye toward shifting responsibility for crime-place management to these owners.

Summary of Responses

The table below summarizes the responses to drug dealing in privately owned apartment complexes, the mechanism by which they are intended to work, the conditions under which they ought to work best, and some factors you should consider before implementing a particular response. There are more responses listed here than in the text where only those responses that have been evaluated through research are discussed. It is critical that you tailor responses to local circumstances, and that you can justify each response based on reliable analysis. In most cases, an effective strategy will involve implementing several different responses. Law enforcement responses alone are seldom effective in reducing or solving the problem.

Summary of Responses to Drug Dealing in Privately Owned Apartment Complexes
Response How It Works Works Best If... Considerations
Enforcing a city ordinance or state law requiring owners to address conditions that foster drug markets on private property Increases the owner's risk, and removes the owner's excuses for not addressing conditions facilitating the market †sanctions are part of the ordinance/law, and the city attorney or prosecutor is willing to proceed Requires local or state legislation
Sending a letter to the property owner from the police chief Removes the owner's excuse of ignorance, and increases the risk for ignoring the problem †the letter outlines legal responsibility and potential consequences for failure to act, as well as the value of improved management practices and environmental changes in eliminating drug markets Letter must be based on state or city law requiring owner action
Supplying the owner with calls- for-service data for his or her property, and with comparison data for well-run nearby properties Removes the owner's excuse that he or she was unaware of the problem and its extent, and underscores the need for the owner to improve management practices †used in combination with the above responses If the owner is "in cahoots" with the dealer then police must keep from the owner the names of those complaining to the police about the dealing
Meeting with the owner and outlining the costs associated with allowing drug dealing on the property Removes the owner's excuse of ignorance †the owner is solvent, or community development housing upgrade loans are available In certain circumstances, the owner may perceive that the costs of making improvements may be higher for the owner than the financial costs associated with allowing the drug dealing
Establishing a landlord training program

† John Campbell collaborated with the Portland (Ore.) Police Bureau to create and deliver the first police-sponsored landlord training curricula in the United States. Campbell, who fought a crack house (place where crack cocaine is sold and/or consumed) operating on his block, conducted intensive research, including interviews of property owners, and concluded, "Most landlords are not skilled in the prevention of illegal activity, but are willing to learn†. [Property owners] prefer to act responsibly, but lack the tools to do so" (Sampson and Scott 2000 [Full text]). John Campbell can be reached through his web site at www.cdri.com.

Removes the owner's excuse of ignorance †tailored to the laws within one's jurisdiction A n apartment managers' association within the community may be able to offer the training.
Establishing a crime-free multi- housing program ††

†† For further information about the crime-free multi-housing program, contact the Mesa (Ariz.) Police Department at 480.644.2211.

Removes the owner's excuse of inability to address illegal activity, raises the owner's awareness of the legal consequences for failure to act, and provides incentives for the owner to operate a crime-free complex †tailored to the laws within one's jurisdiction, and the incentive to the owner is meaningful An apartment managers' association within the community may be able to monitor and manage the initiative.
Engaging an apartment managers' association to work with the owner to upgrade the owner’s property management skills Increases the risk to the owner for failing to remedy conditions at the property, and removes the owner's excuse that he or she does not know how to address or is unaware of the problem †the association is competent and well-regarded It would be unfair to have an association deal with a property owner who is behaving criminally; the association should address only those cases in which the owner is not suspected of collusion
Running credit checks of prospective tenants Removes the excuse for tenant dealing, and weeds out drug dealers whose income is not reported †the credit report also documents court- ordered evictions and past addresses of prospective tenants Must be done in a nondiscriminatory way
Verifying prospective tenants' income sources Employers are called (using phone numbers from the 411 directory, not from the prospective tenant). If the prospective tenant is self employed, copies of bank statements and tax returns are requested. This removes excuses for tenant dealing †the system is set up to verify the income of all potential tenants Must be done in a nondiscriminatory way
Doing a criminal history check of all prospective tenants Removes excuses for tenant dealing †an apartment owners' association has established a legal system for doing so Some jurisdictions permit this; others do not
Doing reference checks of prospective tenants' prior tenancies Calls to prior landlords of a prospective tenant to ascertain if criminal activity was evident remove excuses for tenant dealing. For Section 8 renters, inquiries should be made to the local housing authority †there is an apartment owners' association that facilitates doing so Calls to the tenant's current landlord may not yield any information; however, interviews of previous landlords might
Establishing a no-cash policy-the property owner does not accept cash for deposits or monthly rent Prevents those engaged in an illegal, cash-only business from residing at the property †the owner establishes the policy in writing Some law-abiding people mistrust banks and pay only by cash
Adding a drug addendum to lease agreements Removes excuses and eases the eviction process by putting tenants on notice that drug activity will not be tolerated †the property owner enforces it State law may require that property owners give tenants notice of any new provisions to the lease
Conducting police surveillance from a vacant apartment in the complex or from another vantage point Removes the police or property owner excuse of lack of knowledge of the conditions that facilitate the market †the surveillance focuses not just on the players, but also on the conditions that facilitate the market (e.g., parking, design, lack of natural surveillance) The vantage point from the apartment may not give police a full sense of the market
Surveying tenants Raises the risk for dealers and buyers if tenants are willing to provide details about them, peak market times, and specific apartments or outdoor locations where dealing is occurring †a plainclothes officer does the surveying and leaves a business card with a number that tenants fearful of being seen speaking to police can call If tenants' primary language is not English, several translated versions of the survey may be needed
Having tenants document illegal activity Logs kept for use in civil and criminal court raise the risks to dealers and remove the criminal justice system's excuses concerning the chronic nature of the market †police can follow up, and the information is specific and useful enough Need to ensure that the sources of information are not discoverable in court
Preventing access to vacant apartments if they are used for dealing or taking drugs Removes dealers' and users' excuse for being on the property, and increases the risk of a possession arrest because drugs have to be carried off the property †the apartments are checked frequently for break-ins Boarded-up apartments are not aesthetically pleasing
Posting "No Trespassing" signs Removes buyers' and nonresident dealers' excuse for being on the property †the property owner signs over the right to enforce to police and gives police an updated list of tenants' names Time-consuming for the police; may need semi-constant maintenance if other remedies are not used in combination
Improving property access control and having restricted parking for tenants Restricts buyers' and nonresident dealers' access to the property. Tenant-only parking deters buyers from entering the property in vehicles; eliminating visitor spots has a similar effect. Buyers have to scout for neighborhood parking, and are at increased risk because they have to leave the property on foot, with drugs on them †tenants agree to the change and do not try to sabotage the system Financial costs
Establishing owner expectations for property management and security staff Removes the staff's excuses that they are unaware of their responsibility in addressing illegal activity on the property † expectations are in writing and reflected in job descriptions and performance evaluations Should be done in combination with other cited management practices
Having property management staff keep an in-house log of illegal activity on the property Removes the owner's excuse of ignorance and provides documentation for eviction †management or police responses to the activity are also detailed in the log Log must be safeguarded from theft
Engaging the property mortgagor to prevent the property from losing its value because of entrenched drug dealing be legally allowed The bank or lending agency (holding the mortgage on the property) is informed about the drug market and provided with data on calls for police service and arrests; criminal activity on the property removes the owner's monetary excuses for not acting † the mortgagor requires that the owner develop an improved safety security plan to address the drug market Disclosure of information must
Enforcing codes Removes the owner's excuses if code violations at the property facilitate the drug market, forces the owner to gain compliance, and increases the owner's financial risk if he or she does not comply †the code enforcement agency understands that certain code violations facilitate drug markets, and is willing to assist Should use code enforcement nondiscriminatorily when targeting those conditions that facilitate the drug market
Detecting and arresting tenant drug dealers The use of undercover buys and the issuance of search warrants for active drug apartments increase dealers' risk †in an open market; in closed markets, police must have enough information to lawfully gain access to an apartment Once police gain lawful access, it may be appropriate to bring in other agencies such as health, codes, child or adult protective services, and animal control
Limiting potential buyers' ability to cruise through the area in search of open drug markets Rerouting and managing traffic, redesigning roads and dead-ending streets so they're inaccessible from main thoroughfares increase potential buyers' effort, and also increase their risk of getting caught by limiting the number of escape routes †residents are committed to redesign to eliminate dealing Potential inconvenience to residents
Prohibiting or limiting on-street parking "Resident-only parking" on the street outside of the apartment complex forces buyers to park and walk farther to access the market, and increases the risk to buyers because they must return to their vehicle with drugs in hand †residents are committed to parking restrictions to eliminate dealing Residents with legitimate visitors may find this onerous
Using asset forfeiture Forfeiture of cars or property used by dealers increases dealers' efforts and decreases their rewards †prosecutors are willing to apply the law Must have a local, state or federal law authorizing it
Having legitimate tenants attend court hearings (court watch) Court watch at judicial hearings of dealers and buyers discourages the criminal justice system from treating drug dealing and use as only a personal harm or "victimless" crime †more than a few tenants attend, creating safety in numbers, and the judge tells the accused dealer or buyer that any retaliation will result in greater punishment Potential intimidation of law abiding tenants
Using vertical prosecution Assigning one prosecutor to all cases arising from the same apartment complex removes the excuse that the problem is not chronic, and increases the risk to an ongoing drug operation †the prosecutor's office is familiar with the use of vertical prosecutions, and judges are willing to approach caseloads this way Judges may prefer random assignment of cases
Having the prosecution seek court-ordered, monitored treatment of chronic users who buy at the apartment complex As a condition of probation or sentencing, raises users' risk through consistent monitoring and jail time if caught, and removes their excuse for being on the property, taking them out of the drug market †combined with geographic probation to keep users away from the particular market Resource-intensive
Using surveillance cameras Raises the risk that dealers will be identified and caught, and potentially raises the risk of prosecution due to the strength of evidence † cameras are bullet- resistant, dealers' identities are clear, and the evidence is usable in court Cost and monitoring of cameras
Enforcing tax laws Decreases dealers' rewards through tax sanctions for unreported income or operation of an illegal business †federal and state officials are willing to act The criteria that must be met for state and federal authorities to intervene must be arranged in advance
Providing space for alternative legal activities on the property Counters or overrides the use of outdoor space for drug dealing, removes dealers' and users' excuse for being on the property, and increases the risk to dealers and users through increased natural surveillance of the premises †tenants are involved in selecting activities and are willing to participate Participants' safety
Launching an information campaign targeting buyers at the apartment complex Information distributed to buyers concerning overdoses, chemicals used in cutting drugs, and the risk of arrest at the complex removes excuses and increases buyers' perception of risks; increases buyers' effort, as they have to search for less risky markets † information is available about the type of drugs sold at the complex Determine who should distribute the information-the owner, police, law abiding tenants.
Having law- abiding tenants petition the property owner Pressures the owner to address the market conditions, removes excuses and decreases rewards if the owner fails to comply † tenants agree to all move out if the owner fails to take action within a certain amount of time, and this is stated in the petition Availability of other rentals at comparable pricess
Obtaining a temporary restraining order against the property owner A court order restraining the owner from operating the property in a way that facilitates drug dealing, and requiring that the owner make management and environmental changes to address the market. Removes the owner's excuses, reduces rewards and increases the owner's risk if in noncompliance †the court is willing to apply the law this way May need to educate the court about the legality of doing so
Taking civil action for monetary damages Several cities have a "Safe Streets Now" program in which residents of drug markets sue property owners in civil court for monetary damages caused by such things as the disruption of residents' peaceful enjoyment of their property. This approach reduces the reward for owners who allow activity at the expense of neighbors and their property values

† "Safe Streets Now" programs operate in several cities, including San Diego. For more information, call 619.299.5408.

†residents are trained and organized to follow through Seed money for starting the program
Applying nuisance abatement Police, tenants or neighbors file civil action against the property owner for nuisance abatement (temporarily or permanently taking the property away from the owner) if the owner fails to address conditions facilitating the drug market. Removes the owner's excuses for poor management and decreases the owner's rewards †local government leaders are willing to follow through if police file the case City or state law must permit doing so
Taking civil action for foreseeable consequences Tenants bring civil tort action against the property owner, asserting the owner's liability for operating the premises in a way that is sure to cause them harm. The suit alleges the owner is responsible for providing security against foreseeable crimes. Removes the owner's excuses, increases the owner's risks and decreases the owner's rewards

† To prove liability, a tenant must establish that (1) the property owner had a duty to provide reasonable security; (2) the property owner breached the duty; and (3) this breach of duty was the cause in fact and (4) was the foreseeable cause of (5) the tenant's injury or harm (Kennedy and Hupp 1998:25). Other civil actions might include those for maintaining a nuisance, causing loss of quiet enjoyment or inflicting emotional distress.

†there are pervasive, repeat calls for service about drug dealing, and the owner fails to make needed changes Educating tenants about the law
Holding community antidrug marches at the property owner's home Potentially galvanizes community support to engage the owner in improving property management practices, and reduces the owner's rewards †organized by tenants In some communities, there are anti-picketing ordinances that should be reviewed first
Getting media attention changes Draws media attention to the drug market and management practices if the property owner actively resists taking remedial action, and potentially reduces the rewards for owning property in the community †organized by tenants If the owner complies and makes changes, the media should be invited back to show those


[1] Eck (1995) [Full text].

[2] Jacobson (1999)[Full text]. See also Eck (1998a [Abstract only], 1998b).

[3] Eck and Weisburd (1995) [Full text].

[5] Ontario Police Department (1994).

[5] Eck (1995) [Full text]. See also Eck and Wartell (1998) [Full text].

[6] Davis and Lurigio (1998).

[7] Davis and Lurigio (1998).

[8] Newburn and Elliot (1998) [Full text] [Briefing notes].

[9] Newburn and Elliot (1998) [Full text] [Briefing notes].


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Clarke, R. (1997). "Introduction." In R. Clarke (ed.), Situational Crime Prevention: Successful Case Studies, 2nd ed. Guilderland, N.Y.: Harrow and Heston. [Full text]

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Eck, J., and J. Wartell (1998). "Improving the Management of Rental Properties With Drug Problems: A Randomized Experiment." Civil Remedies and Crime Prevention. Crime Prevention Studies, Vol. 9. Monsey, N.Y.: Criminal Justice Press. [Full text]

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Related POP Projects


The quality and focus of these submissions vary considerably. With the exception of those submissions selected as winners or finalists, these documents are unedited and are reproduced in the condition in which they were submitted. They may nevertheless contain useful information or may report innovative projects.

411 Anacapa Street: A Haven for Narcotics Activity, Santa Barbara Police Department, 1996

Akepo Lane Project, Honolulu Police Department, 1996

Apartment Managers’ Hotline Program, Colorado Springs Police Department, 1998

Creston Apartment Project [Goldstein Award Winner], Kansas City Police Department, 1994

Falcon Pointe Apartment Complex Project, Wichita Police Department, 1998

Fig Garden Villa (formerly Sequoia Towers), Fresno Police Department, 2001

Hopwood Triangle [Goldstein Award Finalist], Lancashire Constabulary, 2004

Krystal Heights 2724, 2730, and 2736 East Magnolia Avenue, Knoxville Police Department, 1995

MOPPIN Up Dodge [Goldstein Award Finalist], Lancashire Constabulary, 2008

Operation First Strike, Phoenix Police Department, 1999

Operation Restore, Lancashire Constabulary, 2003

Project Metrotown [Goldstein Award Finalist], Royal Canadian Mounted Police, 2002

Safe Neighborhood Apartment Partnership (SNAP), Fresno Police Department, 1997

Stonewall Court Initiative, Kansas City Police Department, 1996

The El Dorado Park [Goldstein Award Winner], Fresno Police Department, 1996

The Overtown Problem Solving Team, Miami Police Department, 2002

Thorpe Close Neighborhood Policing Initiative [Goldstein Award Finalist], Lancashire Constabulary, 2006

Tiffany Gardens and Western Hills Apartment Complexes, Overland Park Police Department, 1998

Vanier Project: Gardner St. Residence, Royal Canadian Mounted Police, 1996

Whispering Woods Apartments, Fresno Police Department, 2001

Whitfield Towne Apartment Complex, Prince George’s County Police Department (MD, US), 1998

Woodmar Revitalization Project, Phoenix Police Department, 1999