What would you do if you lived in a once-pleasant neighborhood that suddenly housed a drug dealer? Now, this nightmarish situation is occurring frequently in small town U.S.A. At first, good neighbors are skeptical to believe that a fine, established area could even contain dwellings that house such felons; however, after repeated personal observation, and rampant theft, they soon realize they share space with some very despicable people.
Dr. Courtney Davis ("Dear Neighborhood Drug Dealer, Please Leave...," www.congressheightsontherise.com, January 18 2009) states that drug dealing leads to a host of quality of life issues. Streets and sidewalks littered with the byproducts of dealers and their customers (liquor bottles, ziplock bags, needles, etc) become danger zones. Residents of great communities become incapable of enjoying their homes in peace and, in effect, are held hostage in their own homes. Both residents and visitors become afraid to drive down blocks and streets out of fear of becoming "collateral damage." Even the simple tasks of walking a dog or allowing children to play become safety issues.
One person (www.wikihow.com, March 17 2007) has written about this situation and described the experience like this: "
One dealer down the street has 3 big dogs, and 4 surveillance cameras on his trailer roof (don't know if they actually work but they are a deterrent to gathering picture evidence). Kids come and go at all hours, stay a minute, and then leave. All kinds of cars pull up for a minute and leave. The kids in the neighborhood are, one by one, being turned into addicts...This one dealer gets his own drugs for a 'bad back' and sells them." (220.127.116.11)
Another person (www.wikihow.com, December 10 2007) describes the experience as the following:
"All of the drug dealers in my town are renters, not property owners, so I have appealed to the landlords for help, since as most of you know, local law enforcement is relatively ineffective. In fact, drug dealers are now targeting the small towns, due to the sales being good, to local law enforcement lacking resources, to less retaliation and to better payment from urban buyers. Anyway, in those cases where I have had success, I have written to the landlord, explaining to them that I have witnessed drug deals from their tenants. I also explain to them that I am turning the information over to local law enforcement agencies, and I am giving them a copy of the letter I am writing to the landlord, as evidence of having contacting them. I leave it up to them as to whether they want to risk the fact that if the dealer is busted, they stand to lose their property, since they had prior knowledge of such. At present, I have gotten rid of three drug dealers in my neighborhood, but have had no success in two other instances." (18.104.22.168)
Police and local sheriff deputies are swamped with calls to respond to illegal drug activity. Frustration from concerned citizens, partly due to the drop in their property value and to the continual flow of undesirable traffic, mounts as it seems as if the criminals operate without fear of arrest. Residents resent the boldness of their taunting jeers and open defiance.
Some community members become so fed up with the conditions that they attempt to take measures beyond the law to stop the crime. Putting their family in considerable danger in the process, good Samaritans and vigilantes too often get themselves arrested. Their pursuit of happiness has been dealt a crushing hand from the dirty deck of fate.
So, What Can A Person Do?
The new battle against drug abuse requires community involvement for successful outcomes. According to the Arlington, Virginia Police Department (www.co.arlington.va.us, August 16 2007), patterns for drug activity often follow these obvious indications:
- An unusually large amount of traffic comes to the house or apartment building — in cars, taxis, or walking — often at strange hours. Visitors may sometimes point on doors or shout to be let in. This traffic is usually quick, and the people stay only a short time. Sometimes they don't even go in at all; instead, someone comes out to meet them.
- Finding drugs or drug paraphernalia (syringes, pipes, baggies, etc.) in the area.
- Repeated, observable exchanges of items, especially where money is visible.
- Offers to sell you drugs, or conversations about drugs that you overhear.
- Noxious odors coming from around the houses or buildings, such as "musty" smells.
- Houses or buildings where extreme security measures seem to have been taken.
- Houses or buildings where no owner or primary renter is apparent, and no home activities — yard work, painting, maintenance, etc. — seem to go on.
Many live in rural areas where concerned neighbors simply can't use typical Neighborhood Watch strategies because of the distant proximity of location or some other obstruction to direct observation. Then, more responsibility for their own property falls directly upon the homeowners. This probably requires each homeowner to make a personal report that later can become evidence used by law enforcement. The content of a good report (www.co.arlington.va.us, August 16 2007) is discussed below.
What the Police Would Like to Know
- What makes you think drugs are being sold?
- Which drugs are involved? Have you found any drug paraphernalia?
- How long has the activity gone on?
- Have you reported that activity before? If so, when?
- What is the address where the drug activity is occurring (including the apartment number), or the closest intersection?
- What type of building is it (single family home, business, apartment)?
- Where on the property is the drug activity taking place (e.g., at the front door, out the back window, in the alley, etc.)?
- Do you know where the drugs are kept?
- What is the pattern of activity (times of day and days of the week when it is heaviest; number of people in and out at a given hour; do cars drive up to the house or do people park and walk up; do they arrive in taxis; from which direction do they come; how do they leave)? Keeping a written log of your observations, including date and time, can help identify patterns. Have there been any other crimes associated with the operation (e.g., threats or assaults on neighbors, increased burglaries, etc.)?
- Do you know the name and address of the property owner?
- Do you know the name(s) of the person(s) suspected of dealing?
- What do the suspected dealer(s) look like (sex, age, race, height, weight, build, hair and eye color, hair style, facial hair, complexion, eyewear, distinctive clothing, etc.)? Be as specific as possible with your descriptions.
- What type(s) of car(s) do the suspected dealer(s) drive (make, model, year, two-door or four-door, license number, license state, exterior color, distinctive features)?
- What do the "customers" look like (typical sex, age, race, clothing style)? A detailed description of each buyer isn't necessary, but an overview would be useful.
- What are the license numbers of the customer's cars? License numbers alone won't result in an arrest or probable cause for a search warrant, but can be useful in an investigation.
- How many people live in the house? Are there any children? How old are they?
- Any dogs? What kind? How many?
- Are there bars or any other types of reinforcements on the house windows and doors? What kind? Where? Any alarm or security systems? What kind?
- Have you seen any weapons? What kind? How many?
The actual report to the police can be anonymous, but it is more helpful if people give their names and phone numbers in case other information is needed. Names should be kept confidential if requested.
After the Report
After a good report is filed, the complainant should expect law enforcement to follow procedure.
1. An officer should respond. Remember drug deals are completed quickly, so it may be over before the officer arrive. Police departments are often understaffed due to tight budget concerns.
2. Citizen reports are not usually the primary justification for a drug arrest. Unless people have special training or experience with drugs or drug users, the courts will say an arrest based on only personal testimony isn't justified. Since few citizens can meet the strict legal standards, officers who do have the training and experience must make their own observations and collect evidence the courts will accept.
3. When someone says they saw a drug deal, a significant number of such complaints are found to be invalid when they are investigated. This can happen when neighbors misinterpret what they see. Sometimes it happens because the drug complaint is revenge for other neighborhood problems.
4. Even though they can't be used as the direct justification for an arrest, the reports let the police know there's a problem, and they can provide a cause for police to undertake an investigation of a person or location.
5. If sufficient cause can be confirmed, a written request is made to a magistrate for a search warrant for the house or building. Residents who possess drugs will be arrested. The court may release them on bail, however, and they may return to their neighborhood while they await trial, but most dealers move elsewhere, or stop dealing after they have been arrested. Under the law, certain property may be confiscated by the government, and the proceeds of the sale given to law enforcement agencies to be used for drug enforcement activities. (www.co.arlington.va.us, August 16 2007)
Some Sober Conclusions
Police officers are often just as frustrated as residents about having to operate within narrow legal parameters. But, becoming frustrated with officials and turning a blind eye to crime, whether bystanders are too scared or indifferent, will eventually endanger children and other innocents. As a matter of fact, many measures for safety are very simple to take. For example, to facilitate watches, people can apply simple measures such as clearing sightlines for observation and improving home lighting.
Fairly extreme measures such as erecting a sign reading something like "A Known Drug Dealer Lives Two Houses Down" or purposely videotaping another person's property with limited cause are very questionable. Without the advice of an attorney, people should avoid such actions.
However, banding together in concerned groups does create the opportunity to analyze a bad situation from many angles and sort out strategies to address it in a public way. It also spreads the work around to a number of people.
The group Nonprofit Advocacy suggests, "Getting organized not only turns personal problems into public issues, but increases the chances that the issues can actually be resolved at an institutional level. Getting organized brings people together, not as individual victims of a situation, but as citizens who can effectively build connections with one another and work to get the larger institutions and systems in their community to work effectively. Isolated individuals thus become effective groups with the power to bring about positive changes in community life through public action." (Nonprofit Advocacy, "Why Organize," http://www.npaction.org/article/articleview/578/1/235, 2005)
A Great Postscript By Dr. Courtney Davis
"To the drug dealers, their customers or even the negligent home owners who are aware of this illegal activity occurring within and on their property - WE SEE YOU. We all live here and we all deserve a great place to live and we are sick and tired of you destroying our community. It is not too late to change and you can start today to make a positive impact on your community. It takes a man to build something. Any ordinary thug or hoodlum can destroy something. It takes a man to stand up and put a stop to this foolishness." ("Dear Neighborhood Drug Dealer, Please Leave...," www.congressheightsontherise.com, January 18 2009)
Dr. Davis is also a founding member and the Vice President of the Historic Anacostia Block Association (HABA) and works hard every single day for the success of her neighborhood, her community and her Ward.
Dr. Courtney Davis