In High Point, North Carolina, the unwilling home to a major drug market that was, as usual, a source of violence and disorder, and which had been resistant to sustained routine enforcement efforts. The market, though substantial compared to the size of the city, turned out to involve only about two dozen dealers. Instead of arresting them one by one, giving replacement a chance to work, the police in High Point patiently identified all of the dealers and made the “buys” required to prepare airtight cases against them. The dealers (and, in a brilliantly seriocomic touch, their mothers) were then invited to a meeting, at which they found a solid phalanx of enforcement and prosecution officials and a group of social-service providers. They also found a set of chairs with their names on them (plus three empty chairs), and a set of loose-leaf notebooks, also labeled with their names.
The head of the High Point enforcement effort then explained that the three empty chairs were for the three most violent dealers in town, all ofwhom had been arrested that day, and that the notebooks contained the evidence on which any of the twenty-five dealers in the room could be arrested and convicted with no further investigation necessary. The shocked dealers were also told that, as of that day, the open drug market was closed, and that any one of them so much as suspected of dealing from then on would be prosecuted on the evidence already gathered and in the notebook. The social-service providers were available for those who needed various kinds of help (literacy, drug treatment, job training, housing, tattoo removal) in turning their lives around.
The result, as reported by one of the designers of the initiative, was virtually magical: the drug market dried up overnight. Two new dealers who thought they could take advantage of the sudden supply shortage in the open market were promptly arrested. The effect on the volume of drug transactions and the extent of drug abuse in the High Point area is unknown, and may not have been substantial or lasting. But the contribution to crime reduction was dramatic.
Mark Kleiman has a forthcoming book on criminal justice policy titled, When Brute Force Fails. I found a report by the same name on the National Criminal Justice Reference Service. It contains exactly what you would expect from Kleiman–smart on crime policy ideas that are still criminal justice oriented. Here’s one example from the chapter on drug policy: