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GPD hosts Drug Market Intervention training

BY LEN CABRERA / OCTOBER 26, 2019

Left to right: K. Edward Copeland, Heather Perez, and Bob Hood

On October 23rd, the Gainesville Police Department hosted an information session to explain Drug Market Intervention (DMI) to the community. The presentation was given by three speakers from Project Safe Neighborhoods’ National Training and Technical Assistance Program. (GPD officers participated in DMI training the previous day.) You can view the slides here.

The presenters were K. Edward Copeland, a pastor at New Zion Missionary Baptist in Rockford, IL;  Bob Hood, a former homicide detective turned prosecutor, now living in Seattle, WA, and working for the Association of Prosecuting Attorneys in Washington, D.C.; and Heather Perez, a researcher at the School of Criminal Justice at Michigan State University.

The session was opened by Assistant Chief Terry “TJ” Pierce, who said he was tasked by Chief Jones to implement DMI in Gainesville. Chief Pierce has been working with Heather Perez and said GPD has already implemented two DMIs in Gainesville.

The point of a DMI is to eliminate an open-air drug market, a place where “direct, in-your-face, continuous selling” is blatant. According to Hood, these areas tend to be associated with violence from turf wars and other crimes committed by people who need money for drugs. The objective is specific and limited: eliminate the drug market in the neighborhood. DMI is not about trying to stop drug use or the drug trade. 

DMI is a nine-step process with slight but significant differences from traditional drug enforcement efforts. The first four steps are essentially the same as a traditional investigation (mapping, surveying, incident reviews, and undercover operations). The point is to identify the dealers and build prosecutable cases against them. Traditional enforcement, however, would do individual arrests, resulting in new drug dealers replacing the arrested dealers in a never-ending cycle.

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DMI attempts to remove the drug market all at once by working with the local community, social service providers, and some of the drug dealers. The DMI process identifies active drug dealers and assigns them to an A-list or a B-list. The A-list includes violent offenders with previous drug, gang, gun, or assault charges. These are prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law for public safety. The B-list dealers (referred to as candidates) are offered an invitation to a “call-in,” where they are presented with the case against them and confronted by a unified front of law enforcement personnel, prosecutors, and community citizens affected by drug crime. The candidates are offered amnesty and social services to get their lives back on track in exchange for the promise to stop dealing drugs. (The prosecutors hold the case files, which can be brought to trial if the candidates get caught dealing again.) 

The “call-in” (along with a sweeping arrest of all A-list dealers) is the biggest innovation in DMI. (This involves steps 5-7: mobilize community commitment, contact each offender’s family, and call-in.) The B-list candidates are reached directly or through “influentials”: friends, family members, coaches, etc., who care about them and are willing to help them stay on track. It gives the community a voice and puts a face on the victims of the drug market. It also provides an avenue for the drug dealers to turn their lives around. All the city’s support services are represented at the call-in, so the candidates are offered anything they might need: drug treatment, mental health services, housing assistance, job training, etc. 

Following the call-in, the final two steps are strict enforcement and follow-through. The coordination between law enforcement and the local community developed during the DMI should help keep the neighborhood safe. The process should build trust as residents experience the police specifically targeting the drug dealers, not just harassing anyone who looks suspicious. 

Copeland explained the rationale: drug markets exist in certain areas because they are tolerated (not necessarily by choice). The people don’t feel empowered to do anything about them. DMI brings the community into the process and uses their moral voice to set standards of behavior, something that can have a bigger impact than the simple fear of law enforcement. He said the process balances the concepts of justice and mercy: violence is punished, and mercy is extended to those who are nonviolent and willing to accept it. He said, “Everyone who is standing on a corner is not irredeemable; we are not the worst thing we’ve ever done.”

Hood said most research shows drug markets are usually supported by a small number (20-30) of individuals. Of those, a small fraction will be on the B-list and an even smaller fraction will require social services, so DMI doesn’t overwhelm existing support systems or require additional resources. Copeland added that “the people causing the chaos in Gainesville would not fill this room.” (There are roughly 60 seats in GPD’s Hall of Heroes.)

The idea behind DMI is to remove the chaos and violence of the open-air drug markets and reset community norms and safety. It is not intended to solve “big issues” like poverty or infrastructure, but it provides “breathing space to deal with issues.” The presenters gave several examples from previous DMI efforts in High Point, NC, Rockford, IL, Atlanta, GA, and Seattle, WA. 

Pierce talked briefly about the DMI at “The Slab” in the Duval neighborhood (NE 17th St and 8th Ave). He said community commitment is the hardest part of DMI and wants to encourage property owners to take an interest. Once the drug activity and violence stop, investors will be more likely to work on development projects. One of the local property owners, Kipp Haynes, was in attendance. He grew up in the area and has bought 12 lots over 7 years. He has plans to build 12 apartments, a small grocery store, a pharmacy, and more in the area. Also, the Gainesville City Commission authorized a $1.7M renovation of the Clarence R. Kelly Community Center across the street from “The Slab.”

In April, Chief Jones had a column in The Gainesville Sun explaining why he wanted to implement DMI and push “restorative justice.” You can read more about DMI at National Network for Safe Communities at John Jay College.

Below is a compilation of tidbits shared about other DMI efforts. 

High Point, NC

The first implementation of the DMI strategy was in High Point, NC, in 2004. Perez said they’ve done five DMIs, each in a physical area smaller than three square miles. The number of dealers identified in each market were 26, 21, 25, 36, and 30. In the 26-dealer case, 16 were regular dealers; 4 were put on the A-list and 12 on the B-list.

Hood said an obvious sign of success in High Point is that kids now trick-or-treat in a neighborhood that was a former drug market. During the five years after the first DMI, there was a 57% decrease in violent crime, a 25% reduction in drug arrests, and no murders in the West End area (former drug market), according to High Point police (reported in The Stranger).

There’s a detailed summary of the High Point DMI strategy presented by the Office of Community Oriented Policing Services, U.S. Department of Justice. A shorter summary is provided by the National Institute of Justice.

Rockford, IL

Rockford, IL was one of the first communities to implement DMI after High Point. In order to get community involvement, police went door-to-door to explain DMI and to get information about drug dealers. The call-in was hosted at a church gym, and roughly 200 citizens filled the stands. The candidates were lectured for about an hour by various speakers who repeated the message that the violence had to stop. Then the B-list candidates and their family members went to a smaller room with mug shots of all the A-list dealers who had been arrested. They also found their police case folders on tables and watched surveillance videos of themselves dealing drugs. Copeland said it was particularly powerful to have the drug dealers confronted with the evidence in front of their family members. After that, they were escorted into a third room with social service providers.

Over the next three or four months, the police chief and neighborhood watch members fixed landscaping and lighting. They literally swept the streets with brooms for the symbolism. The city’s code enforcement office helped get buildings cleaned up by tracking down absentee landlords. The area still suffers from poverty, but the violence is gone.

A second DMI was done in 2009 across the street from the Rockford Peaches baseball stadium (the team from A League of Their Own). The crime has stayed away, the city is building a community playground, and there are plans for a Women’s League Museum at the stadium.

Seattle, WA

Hood participated in a DMI at 23rd Avenue and Union Street. He said the B-list had 19 people and they could not reach any of them directly, but they did get to all their family members. Eighteen of the parents confirmed their sons and daughters would be at the call-in. The 19th was a pastor who had no way to contact his daughter, but he wanted to attend the call-in. While he was giving the invocation, his daughter showed up. Hood said it probably helped that five days before the call-in, the police did a sweep and arrested all the A-list dealers, so the B-list dealers knew the letters (and the potential consequences) were real.

At the call-in, they played videos of all the drug deals, similar to Rockford. Hood said there was laughter at first, as the drug dealers saw people they knew being caught on tape. By the end of the video, there were no laughs once they realized all of them were on the video.

Hood said he sat in the surveillance van before the call-in and watched about 30 drug deals in an hour. He returned to the area around 3am after the call-in, and the drug market was gone. He could see buyers driving into the area, but there was no one selling drugs.

The Stranger ran a story about the aftermath of the Seattle DMI. 

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