Center for Problem-Oriented Policing

UnderstandingYour Local Problem

The information provided above is only a generalized description of clandestine methamphetamine labs. You must combine the basic facts with a more specific understanding of your local problem. Analyzing the local problem carefully will help you design a more effective response strategy.

Stakeholders

In addition to criminal justice agencies, the following groups have an interest in the clandestine methamphetamine lab problem and ought to be considered for the contribution they might make to gathering information about the problem and responding to it:

  • environmental protection agencies
  • fire and emergency medical service agencies
  • medical providers
  • public health agencies
  • child protective services agencies
  • school officials
  • business associations (particularly those including retailers who sell products that are commonly used to produce methamphetamine)
  • drug treatment providers
  • chemical manufacturers and distributors
  • chemical manufacturing and distribution regulators
  • juvenile and family courts (including guardians ad litem)
  • city and county attorneys’ offices.

Asking the Right Questions

The following are some critical questions you should ask in analyzing your particular problem of clandestine drug labs, 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.

Characteristics of Clandestine Methamphetamine Labs

  • Which type of clandestine drug lab is the major concern in your jurisdiction: super labs or small labs? What quantity of drugs do the labs manufacture per production cycle? What is the overall production quantity?
  • How many labs have been booby-trapped?
  • Are weapons commonly found at the labs? Have lab workers used any weapons against responders?
  • How have the labs been located? Through fire officials responding to explosions and fires? Through citizen informants detecting suspicious indicators? Through confidential criminal informants? Through routine patrol activities?
  • What chemical production methods are lab workers using?
  • How sophisticated or primitive are the labs?
  • What, specifically, is causing lab explosions, fires, and the release of toxic fumes?
  • How profitable do the labs appear to be?
  • Where have the labs been located? Rural, suburban, urban locations?
  • On or in what types of property are the labs being located? Open fields, houses, apartments, self-storage units, farm buildings, hotels/motels, vehicles?
  • Are the drugs sold near where they are produced, or are they sold and produced at separate locations?

Victims

  • How many people have been injured or killed by explosions, fires, chemical burns, or toxic fumes at clandestine drug labs in your jurisdiction? How many operators, cooks, or other lab employees? How many first responders? How many innocent third parties?
  • How many children have been found at the labs? What harms have they suffered? Chemical exposure? Neglect? Physical abuse?
  • How much environmental contamination has been documented from the labs?

Offenders

† See Pennell et al. (1999)[Full text] for the protocol used to interview methamphetamine arrestees.

  • In your jurisdiction, do clandestine drug lab operators cook, or do they hire cooks?
  • How many people are involved in each lab operation? What specific roles do they play?
  • What is known about the people involved in lab operations? Residence? Immigrant status? Regular employment status? Drug use? Criminal history?
  • How sophisticated and well-trained are the lab cooks?
  • How often do they teach others to cook methamphetamine?
  • Do the labs produce drugs primarily for the operators’ and their associates’ personal use, or for wider distribution?
  • Are the labs being run by independent operators or by drug organizations?

Chemical Supplies

  • What essential and precursor chemicals are being used to supply clandestine drug labs in your jurisdiction?
  • From where are lab operators obtaining the chemicals?
  • How do lab operators circumvent existing chemical controls?
  • What is the level of awareness and cooperation among chemical suppliers and law enforcement agencies?
  • What education and training programs have been developed for chemical suppliers?
  • What chemical reporting requirements apply? Are they adequately enforced?

Current Responses

  • Is there an organized partnership of responders to clandestine drug labs in your jurisdiction? If so, which agencies participate? Are any agencies missing from the collaboration?
  • Have the responsibilities of the various responders been determined? Are the responders meeting their responsibilities?
  • What responses have been implemented to address the labs? Which do you believe have been productive? Which have not, and why?
  • What is the level of public awareness and concern about the labs?
  • Have responders been trained adequately to recognize and deal with the labs?
  • Are lab sites being cleaned up adequately? Who is incurring the cleanup costs?
  • How, if at all, do neighboring jurisdictions’ responses affect your jurisdiction’s lab problem? (For example, do weaker laws and enforcement in neighboring jurisdictions tend to displace the problem away from your jurisdiction, or do stronger laws and enforcement in neighboring jurisdictions tend to displace the problem to your jurisdiction?)

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 clandestine methamphetamine labs:

  • Reduced number of labs. Admittedly, this measure is nearly impossible to determine with any accuracy, but it remains a primary goal. If detection and enforcement levels are constant over time, and the number of labs found and seized declines, this could suggest that the actual number of labs is, in fact, declining. In most jurisdictions, though, increased numbers of labs detected and seized correspond to increased levels of training, awareness campaigns and enforcement resources; that is, up to a point, the more effort you put into finding the labs, the more labs you are likely to find. Counting the number of labs seized can be misleading. You learn little about the quantity of drugs being manufactured because most labs produce only small quantities.[56]
  • Reduced number of explosions and fires at labs.
  • Reduced number and/or severity of injuries suffered at labs.
  • Reduced number of children found at labs in need of medical and social welfare services (although this figure might well rise initially as responders become more alert to the hazards posed to children, and services are made available to treat them).
  • Reduced number of toxic dump sites.
  • Absence of displacement of labs from one area to another.
  • Reduced purity of drugs. This is an indicator that chemicals are harder to obtain, as lab operators seek to maximize their profits from the limited supply of drugs they can produce.
  • Increased price of drugs. This is an indicator that chemicals are harder to obtain or that the risk of apprehension has increased.