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Police to Drug Dealers: Hey, Stop That!

police watched a drug deal in Newport News, Virginia, and built strong
evidence against the drug dealers … then did something unusual: instead
of arresting and prosecuring the criminals, the police invited them for
a talk instead.

Welcome to the brave new world of drug-market intervention:

POLICE watched seven people sell drugs in Marshall Courts and Seven
Oaks, two districts in south-eastern Newport News, in Virginia. They
built strong cases against them. They shared that information with prosecutors.
But then the police did something unusual: they sent the seven letters
inviting them to police headquarters for a talk, promising that if they
came they would not be arrested. Three came, and when they did they
met not only police and prosecutors, but also family members, people
from their communities, pastors from local churches and representatives
from social-service agencies. Their neighbours and relatives told them
that dealing drugs was hurting their families and communities. The police
showed them the information they had gathered, and they offered the
seven a choice: deal again, and we will prosecute you. Stop, and these
people will help you turn your lives around.

Is it working? Time will tell, but one thing’s for sure: the current
way of fighting drugs isn’t working.

Traditional drugs policing targets both users and dealers. This
poses three main problems. First, low-level dealers are eminently replaceable:
arrest two and another two will quickly take their places, with little
if any interruption to sales. Second, it tends to promote antagonism
between the police and the mostly poor communities where drug markets
are found. Arrests can seem random: only one in every 15,000 cocaine
transactions, for instance, results in prison time, but those other
14,999 sales are just as illegal as that one. In some neighbourhoods,
prison is the norm, or at least common, for young men. Police come to
be seen as people who take sons, brothers and fathers away while the
neighbourhood remains unchanged. Third, prison as a deterrent does not
work. If it did, America would be the safest country on earth.

The Economist has the story: Link
(Photo: The Wire/HBO via Wikipedia)

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March 4th, 2012

Stranger to the World


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