Street-level drug law enforcement

Additional Info

  • Authors: Lorraine Mazerolle, Sacha Rombouts, David W. Soole
  • Published date: 2007-05-26
  • Coordinating group(s): Crime and Justice
  • Type of document: Protocol, Review, User abstract
  • Volume: 3
  • Issue nr: 02
  • Title: Street-level drug law enforcement
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Background

An atmosphere of ineffectiveness regarding the ability of police to address crime problems in general and street-level drug problems in particular prevailed in the 1980s. Law enforcement tactics in the 1980s were typically reactive, unfocused and generally failed to disrupt street-level drug market activity. Development of focused proactive policing strategies during the 1990s, such as problem-oriented policing and partnerships with third parties, led to a renewed faith in the capacity of the police to efficaciously deal with street-level drug problems.

Objectives

To utilize meta-analytic procedures to assess the relative effectiveness of police-led drug law enforcement interventions. Specifically, we examined the relative effectiveness of a number of policing approaches, including problem-oriented policing, community-wide policing, and hotspots policing compared to the standard, reactive mode of drug law enforcement that dominated police practice until the 1990s.

Search strategy

We identified relevant studies using a guided, iterative search process utilizing appropriate keyword searches of major databases from various disciplines. In addition, we hand searched key journals in the law enforcement literature, trawled discipline relevant websites, consulted key researchers, postgraduate students, and criminal justice librarians, and cross-checked the reference list of each identified study.

Selection criteria

We restricted our meta-analysis to interventions initiated, managed and/or implemented by the police to reduce or prevent illicit drug use, drug dealing and associated problems at drug dealing places. We investigated the impact of these interventions on a number of outcome variables, including drug outcomes using drug-related calls for service and reported offenses, as well as reported offenses and calls for service outcomes for non-drug specific outcomes such as property crime, violent offences, and disorder. The review imposed no time restrictions (i.e. publication year) and we included unpublished literature (i.e. dissertations, reports, etc) and non-English language studies. Included studies all needed, at a minimum, a pre-test/post-test, comparison group design. Our review included quasi-experimental designs given the lack of methodologically sound evaluations in this area.

Data collection and analysis

We used meta-analytic techniques to investigate the effectiveness of various drug law enforcement approaches on the outcome variables of interest. Specifically, we used the odds ratio to assess pre-test to post-test intervention effects, using a random effects model. We analysed separately the effect of drug law enforcement on each of the outcomes of interest.

Main results

Our results show that problem-oriented and community-wide policing approaches are more effective at reducing drug calls for service and drug incidents than law enforcement approaches that target drug hotspots. We also find that problem-oriented policing is more effective than community-wide policing in dealing with both drug-related and total calls for service. But the simple tactic of geographically focusing law enforcement resources on drug hotspots is a marked improvement over the deployment of “standard” law enforcement tactics (such as preventive patrols) that are geographically unfocused.

In regards to non-drug outcomes, community-wide policing approaches tend to reduce disorder-related activity more than law enforcement-only activities that target drug hotspots. Hotspot approaches aimed at disrupting street-level drug market have a more desirable impact on person (e.g. street assaults) and property crime (motor vehicle theft) outcomes than problem-oriented or community-wide policing approaches.

Reviewer’s conclusions

Our results reveal that geographically targeted problem-oriented policing interventions – involving cooperative partnerships between police and third parties – tend to be more effective at disrupting street-level drug markets than policing efforts that involve partnerships but are spread across a community.

Yet our results suggest that both problem-oriented policing and community-wide partnerships are more effective at disrupting street level drug markets than traditional, law enforcement-only interventions, whether they are focused on hotspots or not.

Our results suggest that rather than simply increasing police presence or intervention (e.g. arrests) at drug hotspots, street-level drug law enforcement should

  1. focus on forging productive partnerships with third parties,
  2. target drug hotspots rather than spreading intervention efforts across neighborhoods, and
  3. make efforts to alter the underlying criminogenic conditions that exist in places with street-level drug market problems.

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