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2.2. Combatting Substance Abuse in Inner Cities: A Proactive Police Perspective on New Initiatives Concerning Demand Reduction Strategies PDF Print E-mail
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Grey Literature - DPF: The Great Issues of Drug Policy 1990
Written by Nicholas Pastore   

Previous police efforts to decrease drug demand were based on the "buy-bust" philosophy. These police efforts resulted in large numbers of arrests, but created excessive demands on police time and problems within the community.

As a result, the police have taken a proactive approach to crime prevention and the drug problem. These include: opening lines of communication between the community and the police; referring suspected drug users and dealers to treatment; and participating in community education campaigns.

Problem: Ineffectiveness of Traditional Law Enforcement Efforts

Over the last five years, crime, especially drug related crime has increased by 53 percent. This indicates that the Department's drug demand reduction activities, in particular the drug sting operations have little significant effect on reducing the demand and sale of drugs in the City. The Department focused on energies providing personnel and resources to conduct "buy bust" drug sting operations using police officers posing as dealers "dispensing" their products to drive up "consumers." Although these operations resulted in mass arrests of drug buyers the outcome proved to be in quantity and not quality.

The organization and operation of the police drug stings created a tremendous strain on police resources in personnel time for what proved to be limited gains; caused a divisive rift between the police and the community; did not effectuate any substantial jail or prison time for those arrested; and did not create an avenue for getting users into treatment.

The idea that the drug sting operations served as a deterrent to drug buys or drug use proved to be a fallacy. The average number of arrests ranged from 70 to 120 people for each drug sting operation. The jail time associated with the stings was minimal, stings did not deter drug use, get drug users off the street for the public's safety, or offer treatment to those in need. In the instances where treatment was sought it was usually mandated by the court as a means for disposing of the case.

The expenses incurred from such operations illustrated that police personnel time was excessively utilized for limited, short term gains. In 1989, a record $3 million was spent on overtime for such sting operations.

In addition to budgetary problems, drug stings were not seen as an activity that offered protection to the public. Surprisingly, community reaction to these policing efforts varied from distrust of the police, frustration from their perception of the police as incapable or ineffectual, to believing that the Police were the "bad guys." In turn, this community reaction fueled an "us" and "them" attitude and mentality from police toward the community and visa-versa.

Clearly, the direct and indirect outcomes from these drug sting operations did not produce the results intended. It became necessary to develop and implement other police methods for reducing the demand for drugs.

Goals and Objectives: New Police Strategies for Combatting Drug Use — a Change in Philosophy

Instead of concentrating on traditional reactive policing methods the Department shifted to a more proactive approach focusing on crime prevention rather than mass arrests. The Department began community based policing initiatives to provide better and specialized police service to the City's diverse population. Currently, the Department is involved in a three fold effort: Opening the lines of communication between the community and the police by forming partnerships with the community to combat crime, especially drug abuse; referring suspected users into treatment; and participating in educational outreach programs.

Combatting drug crime to make the streets safer became a priority. Police Narcotic enforcement and Criminal Intelligence Units sought out upper level drug dealers and drug gangs involved in the sale of narcotics. These investigations lead to fewer arrests than a drug buy-bust sting would, however, the arrests that were made were considered "solid arrests" which substantially resulted in people who spent more time in jail, drug trafficking operations that were put out of business for longer periods of time, and a better perception of the police by the public. In addition to these specialized Unit's efforts, uniformed patrol officers were utilized on the street to provide an increased, visible police presence for the deterrence of crime and to enhance public safety.

Besides the responsibility for the arrest of drug dealers and users, police also realized their responsibility for preventing drug abuse and drug related crime through treatment opportunities. The role of the police officer in New Haven was enhanced to include duties and responsibilities that of a "social engineer." They serve to protect the public and improve the quality of life. It is out of this new direction that the Police Reaching Out program was born.

One of the first initiatives of this community outreach program was an effort by police to get the drug user into treatment. In March of 1990, uniformed police officers began a door knocking campaign and visited the houses of suspected drug dealers and users. Police brought with them information concerning drug treatment facilities and programs and were able to encourage treatment in a culturally sensitive atmosphere. The information which lead to the targeting of these sites was compiled by the Department's Narcotics Enforcement and Criminal Intelligence Units who gathered pertinent information obtained form a variety of sourced such as an anonymous drug telephone hotline and write-in system, informants, and police investigations. Police officers visited these households with a twofold message; that the police were concerned enough about people's well being to encourage drug users to seek help voluntarily for their drug problem, and that the police were aware of and doing something about the drug activity in the neighborhood.

Police Initiative: Leadership Role

A key factor to the success of any new policing philosophy and initiatives is police leadership, especially the role of the Chief of Police. The community often gages its perceptions of the police and police services by the responses and actions of the Chief. If a Chief is accessible and presents a sincere commitment to reaching out to the community, the public then feels that the Police Department as a whole is more accessible, down to the officer on the street. With an effective leader who is receptive to the public and encourage feedback, the opportunities for positive police/community interaction is greatly increased.

Establishing and Maintaining Alliances: Combining Law Enforcement and Treatment Efforts

Since the police and treatment agencies both work to combat drug abuse, a coordinated effort between the two can produce more substantial results. In regard to the Department's reaching into people's homes to encourage drug treatment, the partnership formed with the area drug treatment facility was of vital importance to the program's success. The Department coordinated program activities with The APT Foundation, a mental health organization for substance abuse prevention, education, and treatment. APT is the single largest provider of alcohol and substance abuse treatment in the Greater New Haven area. APT provided the Department with 96 available treatment slots from their newly created cocaine clinic to handle the referrals from the Department's community out-reach effort. This alliance also presented a united front to increase public awareness and combat drug abuse.

In addition to treatment facilities, health service organizations have provided support for police efforts. The spread of AIDS among intravenous drug users is an alarming and growing problem. The encouragement of people into drug treatment programs also provides an opportunity to acknowledge health problems and take the appropriate prevention measures necessary.

The availability of funding and resources is a key factor in maintaining alliances. It is obvious that the outreach program was a success at the time of its implementation because of the treatment slots that were available to APT from a federal waiting list grant. In order for the outreach program to continue and for the police to advocate seeking treatment, there must be funded treatment slots available to those in need. To suggest or encourage such without the latter is a disservice to those that police intend to help.

Program Results: Analysis of Impact

All together, the shift in Department policy toward community based policing, the redirection of police drug demand reduction tactics, and police community out-reach efforts produced a number of positive and desired effects worthy of study and consideration.

Police efforts to get those in need of treatment into treatment were successful. Calls into the Chiefs office by people who admitted they had a drug problem and requested help, indicate that the police message was received by the target audience. Media assistance resulted in additional referrals, which meant that people believed in the Police Department's desire to help them. People approached the Chief on the street, asking for help to get into treatment. Within weeks, more than half of the treatment slots at APT were filled from police referrals. A new confidence and trust in the police as the result of this police effort was experienced.

A positive shift in public perception of the police occurred especially through successful referrals. The community out-reach program chipped away at the "us" and "them" attitude to help reduce public skepticism of the police. Most importantly, the lines of communication were opened between the community and the police. A positive outcome of the program is the willingness on the part of those people who have successfully sought and received treatment for their drug problem to provide police with information on street drug activity and information on drug suppliers. The reason for their helpfulness comes not out of a desire to "return the favor" to the police for the guidance they received, but rather out of a sense of moral obligation or desire to help others like themselves from going through what they have had to go through because of their drug addiction.

To enhance the police out-reach efforts, the newest alliance is a community education campaign, "Everybody Must Do Something," with APT and the Police. This project is another way of continuing and fostering positive contact with the community.

Program Continuity: Success for the Future

To ensure success of the police department's community out-reach program, two factors are critical. First and foremost, it is imperative that treatment facilities obtain the necessary funding and resources to offer and provide immediate treatment programs. The police can not credibly encourage people to seek drug treatment if there are no treatment programs available with fully funded slots for the medically indigent or long waiting lists. Second, national recognition and acknowledgment of police and community drug demand reduction programs such as New Haven's is needed to promote efforts to help generate the money and resources to sustain them. Just as buy-bust drug stings received notoriety in their inception, proactive police programs and tactics reg v  arding drug demand reduction efforts, that have successful results, must receive equal if not more attention. Proactive methods to reduce drug demand provide for positive partnerships between the community and the police.

Nicholas Patore is chief of police in New Haven, Conn. New Haven Police Department, 1 Union Ave., New Haven, Conn. 06519. (203) 787-6271.


Our valuable member Nicholas Pastore has been with us since Monday, 20 February 2012.

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