The information provided in the previous section is only a generalized description of drug dealing in open-air markets. In order to understand the potential effect that any preventative strategies will have, we recommend that you combine the basic facts with a more specific understanding of your local problem. A detailed analysis of the problem in your area will help you design a more effective response and allow you to better predict the outcome of any action taken against the drug market.
The nature of an open-air drug market makes it likely that its location will already be known. However, other key characteristics of the market should be examined. A community survey can serve to identify residents’ concerns as well as trouble hot spots in the neighborhood. In addition conducting a survey is a demonstration of police commitment and can help build relations between the police and local residents. A dedicated telephone hotline for local residents is also useful for gathering intelligence; and provided that information is acted upon promptly, can help build confidence in the community. Systematic and well-recorded observations by an officer can help define the nature of the drug market and identify some of the characteristics that allow drug-related sales to thrive in that area. Other data sources that may be useful to identify discrete drug markets include:
Because open-air drug markets vary in terms of size, drug type and clientele, it is important to understand the conditions of each particular market to best focus your response strategies.
It is also important to identify the reasons why drug markets exist in the area. These are likely to be a complicated mix of situational and social factors.28 Some open-air markets—especially those that are centrally located—owe their development and their persistence to the amenities that the area offers to buyers and sellers drawn from a wide geographic catchment area. Others may serve the needs largely of local users. The balance between supply reduction strategies and demand reduction strategies is likely to vary according to such factors.
The following are some key questions we suggest you ask in analyzing your particular problem of drug dealing in open-air markets, 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.
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. We suggest you 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 dealing in open-air markets:
The most frequent effect of preventative strategies against drug markets is displacement. Displacement takes place when action against a drug market causes market participants to alter their patterns of behavior, whether by moving from one place to another, changing their times of operation, changing their mode of operation or replacing drug dealing with other forms of criminal activity. The effects of displacement are difficult to measure—especially in cases where the market is dispersed over a large area. Enforcement aimed at the Lower East Side of New York was successful at reducing drug-related activity in the local neighborhood; however, because of the size of area involved, it was difficult to ascertain whether the market was displaced to other areas of the city.29 However, it has been argued that even if displacement occurs, it may be preferable for crime to be diffused over a wider area.30 There is also an argument to be made for displacing open-market methods of transactions into less visible closed-market ones, if community concerns about open drug dealing are high. In summary, the fact that displacement may take place does not in itself undermine the benefits of strategies employed against the drug markets. It is essential to try to anticipate both the form of any displacement and its extent. In some circumstances displacing the market either to other geographical areas or to indoor locations may be regarded as a partial success.
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