When James Fealy became the police chief in High Point, North Carolina, in 2003, “he found parts of the city awash in drugs and dealers,” recalled David Kennedy, speaking at a 2008 National Institute of Justice conference.
Kennedy, a New York–based criminologist, developed a strategy — called a “drug-market intervention” — that helps communities shut down open-air drug markets, thereby reducing overall crime rates. Fealy adopted this strategy, and its success in High Point has inspired at least 25 U.S. cities to follow suit.
Here’s how it works, said Kennedy: “Nonviolent [drug] dealers are brought to a ‘call-in’ where they face a roomful of law enforcement officers, social service providers, community figures, ex-offenders and ‘influentials’ — parents, relatives and others with close, important relationships with particular dealers. The drug dealers are told that (1) they are valuable to the community, and (2) the dealing must stop.”
Dealers are offered social services, and police officers tell them, “We do not want to lock you up, but if you start dealing again, you will go to jail.” The strategy puts offenders on notice about the consequences of dealing, while proving to the community “that the police are not part of a conspiracy to fill the prisons with their children.”
“We are seeing sustained 40 to 50 percent reductions in violent and drug-related crime,” Kennedy said.
In a June 2012 televised interview with reporter Dylan Ratigan, Kennedy explained that community leaders’ involvement is essential to the success of drug-market interventions. “If you go to the communities that are battered by violence, they want to talk about responsibility,” he said. “They’re ready.”
Here, teenagers talk with a reporter about violence in their neighborhood, which police attributed to gangs staking out drug turf.