Open-air drug markets and drug enforcement have exacted a heavy toll on poor and minority neighborhoods. Drug markets both reflect and exacerbate breakdown in community social control characterized by disorder, crime, and fear of crime. As drug dealers exert control over public space, residents withdraw. At the same time, four decades of drug enforcement have resulted in cycles of enforcement that result in large numbers of young dealers being incarcerated only to be replaced by a new group of young people drawn to the economic rewards of drug sales. The reality that the sellers involved in open-air drug markets, who comprise the majority of incarcerated drug offenders, are disproportionately people of color whereas the buyers are often white and non-local, also has been a source of conflict and suspicion between law enforcement and residents of these neighborhoods. The Drug Market Initiative (DMI) represents a recognition of a “new way” of dealing with open-air drug markets.
What is the Drug Market Initiative?
DMI is a strategic problem-solving initiative aimed at permanently closing down open-air drug markets their associated crime, violence, and disorder that has proven challenging for communities and law enforcement for decades. The strategy targets individual geographic drug markets using a focused deterrence strategy, specifically drug dealers in those areas. The most violent offenders are targeted and prosecuted to demonstrate what will happen if one persists selling drugs and committing serious crimes. The strategy then stages an intervention with the low level offenders, their families/influentials, and community members. Law enforcement mobilizes community residents, leaders, and family members of low-level drug dealers to voice their intolerance for this criminal behavior and to create opportunity and support for these offenders in changing their behavior. Offenders are given the option to straighten up or face lengthy prison sentences and are provided access to services such as job training, housing, transportation, and health care.
It is important to clarify what the Drug Market Intervention is and what it is not. Specifically, DMI is a strategic and focused intervention intended to shut down or eliminate open-air drug markets, and thereby reduce crime and violence in a target neighborhood. The goal is to return the neighborhood from the drug dealers back to the community. Simply put, there are four interlaced goals of the DMI:
1) Eliminate open-air drug markets
2) Return the neighborhood to the residents
3) Reduce crime and disorder
4) Improve the public’s safety as well as their quality of life