Tips to Stop Street Corner Drug Dealing

Published: October 16, 2008

LOS ANGELES – Campus officers can make life miserable for dealers just by taking a few actions during their shifts.

It has been argued that drug use is a victimless crime. But law enforcement officers know better. They’ve seen the overdosed victims, the worried looks on parents’ faces. They’ve also seen the neighborhood deterioration. This creates an environment suitable not only for drug dealing, but also prostitution, burglaries, robberies, rapes and murders. When this type of activity occurs near a campus, student safety and academic achievement also suffer.

There’s a lot that good cops can do to make life miserable for street corner drug dealers. Campus law enforcement can attack street drug dealing in one of three ways:

  • Attack the demand (scare off buyers)
  • Attack the supply (slow the dealer’s business)
  • Alter the environment (make the area “too hot” for dealers and buyers)

Never Underestimate the Power of Just Showing Up

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The greatest deterrent to drug dealing is officer presence. Just being in the area in a marked unit will scare off drug dealers and drug buyers. Whenever campus officers get a chance, they should drive through the neighborhood.

Campus police should drive slowly in their jurisdiction and take note of the corner dealers staring at them. Officers should remember their faces but also take note of their footwear. Shoes are one of the few articles of clothing a suspect cannot readily discard during a foot pursuit.

When officers must complete a report that can be done in the field, they should try to do it near the busiest drug dealing corner in their patrol area. Of course, they should take some precautions when doing this. Parking 15 feet beyond the farthest point where the strongest kid can throw a rock is a good practice.

Officers can do their paperwork with their overhead lights on. Only the most hardcore junkie will buy drugs with a marked unit that close; they don’t know the officer’s head is down, and he or she is completing a report.

Being visible will reduce fear of crime among the good citizens and students, and enhance the chances they will come forward with good information.

Officers in Disguise Can Watch the Buyers
Campus officers can conduct surveillance on the drug dealers. Yes, their marked units and uniforms work against them, but there is no reason an officer can’t park the unit around a corner and walk to a good observation area.

Officers can carry a baseball cap and a weathered Army field jacket in the trunk of their units. The cap will cover the tell-tale flattop hair cut, and the field jacket will cover the uniform shirt. All of the pockets on the jacket are also great for holding flashlights, radios and binoculars.

Now that the officer has his disguise, he can stand on a corner or in a store about a block away and watch the comings and goings of dealers and buyers.

Are the buyers local to the area or do they have to travel? How do they travel? Car? Bicycle? Bus? Are the buyers casual users or hardcore junkies?

The hardest buyers to catch are local residents who can walk to the area from alleys and backyards. Buyers in cars, however, can be located by officers running their license plates.

When a pattern of buyers from a certain area is determined, officers can stake out that route and begin aggressive traffic enforcement. This will lawfully put the officer in contact with people who are in the area for unlawful purposes.

Campus police should try to note the full license plates of all buyers. A form letter can be sent to the vehicle owner, advising him or her that the vehicle was seen in a high crime area. The dangers of the area can be listed in the form letter. This will allow vehicle owners (parents) to address the matter on a family level.

Gather Intel on the Dealers and Their Methods
Officer surveillance will yield information about the drug dealers. Does the dealer work alone, or is he part of a network that includes lookouts, “steerers” and “runners”? The steerers and runners are usually far from cover and not carrying any drugs, so they tend not to run, which makes them easier to apprehend.

When officers watch the dealers, they should gather intelligence about how violent they will be if confronted. Also, officers should watch their behavior with their customers. Do they just sell to anyone or is there some ritual the buyer must go through?

Scatter the Corner Dealers, Go on a Treasure Hunt
Another way to hurt drug dealers is to confiscate their drug stash. Smart drug dealers do not carry any product on them. So police need to formulate ways to make them reveal where it is located.

Here’s a really good technique: An officer turns the corner hard with the vehicle’s overhead lights on; this will likely scatter the drug dealers. When this happens, good surveillance will reveal the nook or cranny where the drugs are stashed.

Confiscating a drug stash is much more effective than securing and exiting a marked unit and then chasing a younger suspect. It’s a lot easier on the officer and much more effective to just take the stash.

Shut Down the Sale of Papers and Pipes at Local Stores
It’s likely that legitimate businesses in the neighborhood are also benefiting from the illicit drug trade. Campus police should locate stores selling rolling papers, loose cigarettes, pipes and other items needed to make drug paraphernalia.

Once these businesses have been identified, the owners should be notified of campus law enforcement’s efforts to reclaim the local street corners. Most are good citizens who will remove certain items to facilitate police enforcement. And the storeowner, who may also be a victim of intimidation, may serve as a good source of information.

Made an Arrest? Get Additional Information
When officers make a drug arrest, no matter how small, it should be used as a treasure trove of information. Casual drug users can’t wait to talk because they usually have a business or family; hardcore drug users can’t wait to talk because they need their next fix.

Campus officers should prepare their debriefing questions prior to making any arrest. With just a little effort, officers can learn where the other places to buy drugs are located. Working with detectives, the casual street drug buyer may be turned into a cooperating informant who can lead law enforcement to bigger stashes. Drug buyers can obviously go places where the police cannot.

Officers can also determine who is committing the petty crimes in the area. Whether it is a suburban neighborhood beset by vandalism or an inner city community with a large number of burglaries, drug users have an ear on the street and are usually willing to trade information for a kind word to the judge.

Campus officers should not assume that only the narcotics bureau of a municipal police department can make a difference. The observations and the information generated by the campus-level law officer are invaluable in reducing the number of street corner drug dealers.

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Det. Joseph Petrocelli is a 20-year veteran of New Jersey law enforcement. He can be contacted through www.SAFECOPS.com.

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