Center for Problem-Oriented Policing

Summary of Responses

The table below summarizes the responses to drug dealing in open-air markets, 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. 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.

Drug Enforcement
# Response How It Works Works Best If... Considerations
1 Policing the area in a highly visible fashion Disrupts drug-related activity and reduces the fear of crime among local residents; and helps build relationships with local residents …efforts can be sustained over time Officers should receive training about the characteristics of street drug markets so they can make accurate evaluations about situations as they occur
2 Enforcing the law intensively Deters buyers and sellers by increasing the actual and perceived risk of apprehension …enforcement strategies are focused on a specific geographical location Care should be taken not to alienate the local citizens by infringing on their civil liberties; effects tend to be short term and costly to sustain. Efforts should be coordinated with prosecutors to manage the impact on criminal justice system
3 Arresting drug sellers in “buy and bust” operations Deters drug dealers by incarceration and/or fines

…officers and vehicles are regularly substituted to avoid detection; and arrests are followed up with responses that alter the market conditions Effects are typically short term if drug dealers are readily replaced or if court sanctions are weak; officers face considerable physical risks
4 Intelligence-led investigative work Police use information from drug hotlines and police informants to target drug distribution networks …information is processed swiftly and the appropriate action is taken Safeguards should be put in place to ensure that sources are not able to manipulate a situation for their own gain
5 Confiscating stashed drugs Raises the costs of drug dealing by loss of merchandise, which may discourage dealing in that area or raise the price of drugs which, in turn, might reduce demand …police can get good intelligence from the community Response depends upon timely and reliable intelligence from the community; and requires an effective and efficient procedure for confiscating and inventorying seized drugs
6 Arresting drug buyers Deters buyers by increasing the actual and perceived risk of apprehension …most buyers are novice or occasional users; arrest campaigns are widely publicized after the fact to deter potential customers Officers should receive extensive training to avoid legal entrapment defense; officers face considerable physical risks; effects will be limited if there is a large pool of new buyers coming to the market
7 Warning potential buyers Discourages buyers from entering the market out of fear of apprehension or being publicly exposed for illicit conduct …the scheme is well advertised and used in conjunction with high-visibility policing Care should be taken not to offend or accuse innocent persons seen in the area
Community Responses
# Response How It Works Works Best If... Considerations
8 Encouraging community action Discourages sellers and buyers by conveying community intolerance for drug dealing; threatens buyers and sellers with loss of anonymity …efforts are sustained over time Communities may not always be receptive to police efforts; response may be difficult to sustain over time; citizens may be too fearful to become actively involved
9 Operating a telephone hotline Increases community reporting of drug dealing, which should increase the risk that offenders will be apprehended …information is followed up promptly and used to target drug hot spots; reporting citizen’s identity is anonymous or kept confidential Police need to respond quickly to the information they are given; response requires that the community generally has confidence in police to take action; the volume of complaints can overwhelm the police capacity to respond
Civil Remedies
# Response How It Works Works Best If... Considerations
10 Encouraging place managers to be more proactive Discourages buyers and sellers by communicating that drug dealing in and around properties will not be tolerated …place managers have the incentives and resources to make necessary changes Threats or actual legal sanctions may be required to incentivize reluctant property owners; some segment of community may object to compelling private property owners to change the ways they manage and maintain their properties
11 Applying nuisance abatement laws Compels property owners to take actions that can discourage drug dealing …jurisdiction has an efficient nuisance abatement process and effective sanctions for noncompliance This response is unlikely to be a quick solution, especially if owner contests proceedings; it requires diligent follow up to ensure compliance
12 Issuing restraining orders or “stay-away” orders Discourages defendants, or those convicted of drug dealing from returning to drug-dealing areas …utilized with effective sanctions for non-compliance Judges may be reluctant to issue an order if the defendant can prove that such an order would cause undue hardship
13 Notifying mortgage holders of drug-related problems at their properties Encourages responsible management of properties that may be used in ways that support open-air drug markets …police have an efficient means of identifying mortgage holders; mortgage holders have a sufficient financial stake in the property to become involved Response is only relevant if problem properties are being financed by a responsible entity
14 Enforcing regulatory codes Pressures owners of properties being used in support of drug markets to improve the maintenance and management of their properties to discourage drug dealing …police have a good working relationship with regulatory inspectors and enforcement mechanisms are effective Enforcement of code regulations may take time
15 Seizing and forfeiting assets related to drug dealing Reduces profits and/or increases cost to drug buyers, sellers, and those who allow their properties to be used in support of drug dealing …there exists an efficient system for processing asset seizures and forfeiture claims These actions must be authorized by law; there may be few valuable assets worth seizing
Modifying the Physical Environment
# Response How It Works Works Best If... Considerations
16 Reclaiming public areas Promotes legitimate uses of space that can discourage drug dealing in that space …other agencies and organizations, and the community at large, support police initiative to promote other uses of the space Work carried out as part of these modifications may disrupt local residents; improvements to space may be costly; there may be objections to curtailing certain uses of the space that are legal, but somewhat disorderly
17 Installing surveillance cameras Increases the risk of identification and provides evidence that may be used in court …the scheme is well advertised, effectively monitored, and used in conjunction with high-visibility policing to respond to observed crimes and incidents Installation and operating costs must be considered; some geographical displacement will probably occur; the response requires diligent monitoring; the impact is not clearly understood
18 Altering access routes and restricting parking Discourages drug dealing by making it inconvenient for buyers and sellers to maneuver in and out of the market …residents and merchants affected by changes are consulted about and support proposed changes; changes are tailored to the specific mechanics of the market Redesign may be costly; may disrupt and inconvenience local legitimate residents and merchants; and may restrict access routes for emergency vehicles
19 Removing pay phones Hampers communication between sellers and buyers …drug dealers and buyers use pay phones to arrange deals Local residents may oppose the scheme
20 Securing vacant buildings Prevents their use as places where drugs can be used or sold …police coordinate efforts with housing services to ensure that once a problem has been identified, action is taken quickly Regular checks should be made to ensure buildings remain secure
Demand Reduction
# Response How It Works Works Best If... Considerations
21 Providing drug treatment Reduces the demand for drugs; ensures that if a window of opportunity is created for users to seek treatment as a consequence of enforcement activity, services are able to respond … treatment resources are adequate to meet demand; individuals referred by police receive high treatment priority Police should inform treatment services of high volume enforcement activity so they can prepare for increased demand for treatment; treatment funding can be costly