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Monday, February 21, 2011

Drug Market Intervention -- A Strategy For Improvement

What can be done for the law-abiding residents who experience nightly intrusions from those selling drugs? Their neighborhoods have become havens for criminals. Each infestation offers an oasis for come-and-go transactions. The people living with this terrible crime want a chance to reclaim their communities and live peaceful lives.

The Drug Market Intervention program presents a strategy for improvement. It offers help for those suffering the ill effects of drug infestation, and for some drug dealers, it is a chance to avoid prison and reclaim their lives.The DMI focuses on the police developing, or in many cases repairing, their relationship with local communities. Implementation of the DMI relies on the participation of four linked stakeholder groups: the police, the local community, offenders and local social service providers.

Here is a report on DMI community action taken in Ocala, Florida. The enforcement officers and citizens, among others, initiated this program to help stop drug abuse in their community. (Austin L. Miller, "Program Confronts Suspected Drug Dealers,", October 9 2010)

"Sitting on a table were unsigned arrest warrants in their names. Staring at those warrants were three men and a 14-year-old boy.

"Behind them were 11 empty chairs with wanted posters pasted on the back and fliers on the front. The pictures of the 10 men and one woman were a reminder for the four people up front that they were lucky. Of those 11, 10 have been arrested; one is on the run.

"The three men and the teenager are now faced with a choice: Continue selling drugs and be arrested, or walk away from that lifestyle and seek help.

"I had to drop my head ... I was embarrassed," said the 14-year-old's mother, sitting beside her son Thursday night following a presentation inside the Community Room at the Ocala Police Department."

The foursome are participants in OPD's Drug Market Intervention program, an initiative implemented in 2004 in High Point, North Carolina, as a way to eliminate open-air drug markets. The local police showed the carefully screened defendants the evidence against them, and they were given a chance to change or be arrested.

Several speakers (including former drug dealers, ministers, public defenders, and residents) talked to the four about the dangers and consequences of selling drugs in Ocala. Assistant State Attorney Tommy Thompson told the four DMI candidates, "My job is to put people in prison" and warned them that, "You're in a lot of risk right now."

Steps In Conducting the Program

1. OPD Sgt. Corey Taylor visited High Point and other communities nationwide to see how they implemented the Drug Market Intervention program

2. OPD's Criminal Intelligence Unit conducted a city-wide research of violent behavior, and drug and prostitution activities. 

    A. Six neighborhoods stood out as drug markets. 
    B. In two neighborhoods, operations were conducted that entailed drug buys: the first was a  
        two-month operation and the second lasted five months.   
3. Officials identified 28 drug dealers — two women, 25 men and a juvenile, ranging in age from 14 to 63.

4. Of 28 identified drug dealers from the first two target areas, 10 fit the criteria for participation in the DMI program. The other 18 were arrested.

5. The 10 candidates for DMI went through a process in which police first identified them as drug dealers then checked their backgrounds to see if they could be rehabilitated. 

6. They then attended a meeting where they were shown the evidence against them and were given an opportunity to change or be arrested.

According to Sgt. Taylor, after the first DMI meeting, which involved six of the 10 candidates, three violated their promise to stop selling drugs and were arrested and taken to jail.

The Need

Everyone has an excuse for drug infestation. Depending upon your job and your place in the community, you believe something MUST be done but you also have definite ideas about what is NOT being done. For example, many citizens who constantly see the criminal element say, "I report the crimes to the authorities and nothing is done." The law enforcement personnel reply, "Without adequate staff and funding, our abilities are limited, and besides, we require lots of real evidence and not hearsay."

Frustrations reach the boiling point; fingers are pointed; and time and crime marches on. At some point, communication breaks down and scars of the fight dig deeper wounds. Distrust sows fertile seeds.

The drug trade is a MONSTER. It is not going to pack up and leave town. All efforts to control and defeat this scourge must be coordinated and managed with efficiency. Time is a critical factor to those in the midst of suffering the worst effects of crime. The Drug Market Intervention program is a viable weapon in the fight.

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